The Play's the Thing, P. G. Wodehouse's 1926 English adaptation of Ferenc Molnar's Hungarian comedy "The Play at the Castle," is an enchanting play of manners. elevenone theatre’s sparkling production this week makes the extra ten minutes one needs to allow to find the Moser theatre in the deepest reaches of Wadham college well worth while. It is rare to find the second night of a local production very nearly sold out but word had obviously travelled because this one was.
In common with the director, the producer and quite a lot of the audience I didn’t know that Wodehouse was also prolific in the matter of plays, musicals and lyrics. The Play's the Thing has all the delight of his wit, often in a pithier form: ‘Never mean well, it is always fatal’.
The characters are larger than life, but between them they portray elements of the human condition we can all identify with. This is an ensemble piece with strong performances from all the cast that results in people that we care about and who had the audience both absorbed and in fits of laughter throughout. We enjoy being in on the secret as Turai (Phillip Cotterill) pulls the strings of all around him, to create the setting in which all is resolved. I felt that Helen Taylor’s direction was both detailed and light of touch allowing each character to develop from the actor’s strengths.
Everyone’s comic timing was good (a rare achievement in professional theatre, never mind non-professional) with particularly striking performances from David Guthrie as Dwornitschek who when asked when he slept, replied dryly ‘winter’ and Ida Persson as the hapless Miss Mell exuding a degree of anxiety that caused real pain amidst the laughter.
The setting is a little unlikely (did Italian castles in the 1920's really have telephone operators available at 6am?) but the simple box set made the most of the Moser space, looked good and was sturdy – nothing more distracting in a small theatre than wobbly walls! A nicely subtle touch were the shifts light on the view of distant mountains we see through the window.
It is a play in which eyebrows play a large part – raised quizzically, in horror, in fury, in studied amusement, in desperation, even wriggled deliciously and occasionally slightly smugly... but always on the move. The eyebrows spoke volumes.
It is a wonderfully mannered dip into a past that never actually existed, a delightful froth to lose oneself in for an evening - if you can get a ticket!