The Customs House
South Shields

Canoeing For Beginners is not about a couple called John and Anne (as you might think) but about Frank and Beryl, and their children Keith and Carol, and how a deception unravels with hilarious consequences.

The premise is simple; Frank (David Whitaker) fakes his own death with the aide of a canoe and Beryl (Pat Dunn) his accomplice, puts on the brave face at home until the “coast” is clear and she can join him, with a large cheque from the insurance company, for their new life in Cuba. But they don’t anticipate a curious daughter and a police sergeant willing to go the extra mile to find out what’s really going on.

With the play consisting of two acts and two sets, it’s a simplistic backdrop for the story set in the family home and a Cuban hotel room. Each act feels a little too long and it takes a while for the actors to warm up into character, and for the audience to warm up to them.

However Dunn portrays Beryl as the devoted wife and soon has the audience taken in to her very own deception. Whitaker’s Frank is how you’d imagine a dead man on the run; portraying a cagey, anxious man wanting the lies to end.

The ever excellent Laura Norton does what she does best as northern lass, Carol; vocal, brassy and energetic and Gary Kitching’s Keith grows on you as the long-suffering son.

But the scene stealer of the show is quite easily Chris Connel as Detective Sergeant Watt. If it weren’t for him the play would struggle for jokes. Doubling up as the Cuban policeman is no easy task but Connel manages to create two very distinct characters and interchanges with ease.

A little more of the humour in the second act wouldn’t have gone a-miss in the first, but perhaps it wouldn’t have been as effective for the build up to the hilarious finale.

Mike Yeaman’s play is perhaps a little on the long side, but it’s worth persevering until the end. An entertaining watch with plenty laughs and subtle jokes for those familiar with the real life story of a man and his canoe, the hilarity of the situation is played out with great effect.