In 1963 Brighton, out-of-work skiffle player Francis Henshall becomes separately employed by two men – Roscoe Crabbe, a gangster, and Stanley Stubbers, an upper class twit. Francis tries to keep the two from meeting, in order to avoid each of them learning that Francis is also working for someone else. Complicating events, Roscoe is really Rachel Crabbe in disguise, her twin brother Roscoe having been killed by her boyfriend, who is none other than Stanley.
Complicating events still further is local mobster Charlie the Duck, who has arranged his daughter Pauline’s engagement to Roscoe despite her preference for over-the-top amateur actor Alan Dangle.
Even further complications are prompted by several letters, a very heavy trunk, several unlucky audience volunteers, an extremely elderly waiter and Francis’ pursuit of his twin passions: Dolly, Charlie’s feminist bookkeeper, and food.
DIRECTOR: Tom Tull
As we entered the Old Court Theatre, we were greeted and given a programme. We had to queue at the box office for our tickets but that was quickly dealt with. When we took our seats, it was nice to see that the house was virtually full. The ambient music that was playing helped to create the atmosphere, as did the cast who were already on stage having a soiree.
I have seen the show before so there was a lot that did not surprise me as much as the other people in the audience but, even knowing what was coming, I was laughing from the beginning. The cast were strong performers and they had developed their characters nicely.
Colin Smith played the lead role of Francis Henshall well, although his constant hand waving did become a little bit tiresome after a while. In my personal view, I think the character works better being understated but everyone will have their own opinion on that! His change to ’Paddy’ was interesting but the constant jigging also became distracting. Colin’s interaction with the audience was terrific, his work with the ‘sandwich lady’ was excellent to observe. He is clearly a talented actor, so I have to assume that a lot of what he did was directed.
Laura Bradley was very good as Pauline Clench, totally the dumb blonde but nicely played without going over the top. Helen Millwood played Dolly beautifully. The joy of this theatre is that the cast are close to the audience, giving them the opportunity to use facial expressions much more than in a large theatre. Both Helen and Laura had this perfectly, they conveyed so much more with just their facial expressions. Corinne Woodgate played Rachel Crabbe (playing her twin brother Roscoe for most of the play) This is a difficult part to play as the character must be believable as a male, albeit an effeminate one. For me Corinne nailed it beautifully.
Alan Edwards played Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench with some good attention to detail in the character. Mark Sutton played Harry Dangle, the slick lawyer and the character was spot on. Alexander Bloom played his son Alan; his character was, for me, not over the top enough at the beginning, but he did get more so as the play moved on. James Christie played the ‘upper class twit’ Stanley Stubbers to perfection, a perfectly balanced performance. Jesse Powis played Lloyd Boateng, friend of the Clenches and the landlord of the pub. Dave Hawkes played the geriatric waiter Alf and, although he was thoroughly entertaining, I did feel that the character was a bit ‘overplayed’. Finally, a mention for Lewis Clarke who swept up all the other parts, well done!
A lot of the action seemed to be more pantomime than comedy, it is a fine line to tread between the two and I was not convinced that the Director achieved the right balance throughout the play. I thought that there could have been lot more done with the trunk, it was not on stage for long enough given the key part it plays in the plot.
In truth, though, the script is the star of this play, it just needs a strong hand to control the action. A farce it may be (in the theatrical sense) but it needs a firm directorial hand to keep it on the right side of farcical.
The scenery was excellent, well planned and beautifully decorated in the period. The costumes were good, again well placed in the period and the accompanying music matched the production. The technical aspects of the play, like lighting and sound effects, were well executed.
Having said all this, it was obvious that the audience thoroughly enjoyed the play and the comments as we exited proved that this was a well-received production.