For their final production of the season, Oldham's Lyceum Theatre company (amateur) decided to end with a farce; and who better than the masters of British farce Messrs Cooney and Chapman. Ray Cooney especially has a large oeuvre of plays which have had huge success on the West End stage and elsewhere, some even being made into film.
The problem with them is that they are utterly formulaic and once you have seen one, you have, more or less, seen them all. That though is their charm. A farce is based on a certain pre-existing expectation on the part of the audience that the characters on stage are going to become embroiled in a plot which as Jeeves would undoubtedly have said to Wooster, is 'thicker than Mulligatawny'. Sex is always involved, as is usually one or more of the protagonists wandering around in their underwear, all of whom lying unconvincingly in order to bring about a happy resolution, so the audience can go home with a huge grin on their faces, having laughed at the folly of others.
The execution of a farce however requires great skill; not least of which is that oft-quipped word, 'timing'. The pace has to be frenetic and the actors fully committed and believing 100% in their actions. And hereby stands the biggest problem since the first scene of any farce is 'the plot'... 'a scene setting scene to set the scene and see the set, set the scene up and see the set up'. If the audience don't understand the premise for the convolutions to follow, then it has failed, and yet, the pace still needs to be fast, airy and of course larger than life.
In this evening's production of Cooney's Not Now Darling, the scene-setting scene was played convincingly, but a little too sluggishly meaning that the pace, and naturally the laughs, didn't really pick up until half way through the first act. This was a huge pity since the actors all invested huge amounts into the play, and deserved to have been getting laughs much earlier. Once the play did get going however it was delightful. It was obvious that all the cast understood the play and their characters well, and their motivations and characterisations were all solid. Had the pace been lifted just a little though the laughter lines would have hit home sooner and better. Some of the lines were missed and went un-emphasised. That was a shame, but perhaps that was the intention of director David Fielding. Sometimes it is extremely hard to know which lines to give weight to, and which to discard.
We are in a high class fur emporium in an elegant area of London, where partners of the company Arnold Crouch and Gilbert Bodley conduct their business. Crouch, the straight-laced workhorse who couldn't see an innuendo if it hit him in the face, and lothario Bodley whose objectification of the female body was acceptable in the 1960s. And as wives, affairs, girlfriends, models, secretaries and clients enter and exit with plots plausible and implausible the two are forced to concoct lie after lie and throw various items of female clothing out of the window in order to try and save face.
Crouch (Phil Clegg) and Bodley (Phil McCarthy) worked wonderfully together and the gradual change of Crouch from mouse to man was excellently measured. I also enjoyed the rather Terry Thomas-esqueness of McCarthy's interpretation. All the female visitors to this salon were very good indeed. All so very different in their mannerisms and yet all so obvious and calculating in their needs; Janie McMichael's supercilious air and material desires were given a quietly confident and superior twist here by Ruth Wild, whilst the more giddy and younger, less experienced Sue Lawson was played with fun by Jenny Saville. Secretary Miss Tipdale's (Suzanne Hudson) sudden liking towards crouch brought upon by Crouch's manly gruffness was excellently played and garnered perhaps the best laugh of the evening. And supported by blustering incompetent men and a confused old dear who can't find her husband, this is a large cast play who all were excellently chosen and fit their roles well.
The set, as is usual with The Lyceum, was of a very high standard and looked superb; costumes were all authentic-looking and the lighting and sound good this evening too. All that was needed to make this production stand out was a little more pace and to 'play the laughter lines' a little more. Otherwise a highly entertaining evening and a great end to a great season.
Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 9/6/18