Forget about the politics (and politicians) of Whitehall. Or even those in county and town halls. Those which are confined simply to an office in an ordinary commercial enterprise could teach the nation’s representatives a thing or two about deviousness and vicious manoeuvring when promotion – or redundancy – looms.
Eric Chappell’s 1970s comedy Fiddlers Three is really two short plays set six months apart and deriving from his scripts for the television series The Squirrels. Fletcher is the office manager, brusque with his underlings but lickspittle as far as the directors and head office personnel are concerned.
He’s already managed to drive second-in-command Glover into a nervous breakdown and a disabling stoke; now three men have their eyes and ambitions trained on the little matter of who will replace Glover – and thereby increase his salary as well as his status.
Prime candidate is apparently Rex (who doesn’t live up to his name and has a wife, a mortgage, a rusting car and three small children to support).
Waiting for Rex to slip up is Harry, on the surface too laid-back to do any actual work; he also has a wife (with ambitions of her own) but no children. Newly recruited Osborne has a widowed mother to support while working towards the accountancy qualifications which – in Thatcher’s Britain – are likely to prove more important than personal connexions.
The Southwold Theatre stage is not a large one, but Maurice Rubens has devised a realistic set showing two offices and the corridor behind. Director Anthony Falkingham keeps the action brisk but the joke does sag from time to time with repetition, whatever variations are rung on its theme. The performances however are good.
Richard Blain is funny flapping around as harassed Rex with Imogen Slaughter matching him as his clear-sighted wife Ros. Terry Molloy makes Fletcher into the sort of small-minded office tyrant one so delights in seeing achieve his final comeuppance. Rosanna Miles as secretary Norma – not just office candy – and Mark Jackson as last-in, first-out Osborne also construct two-dimensional characters into proper human beings.
The two spiders waving this particularly tacky web are head office trouble-shooter Bryan Heath (Paul Hegarty) and Harry. Andrew Bone in the latter role presents us with both the outer layer of insouciance and the muscular skeleton supporting it to fine comic effect. Hegarty sketches the man of outward authority and inner uncertainty to dominate his short scenes.