Something peculiarly innocent is created when the British write a French farce. Take the 1969 confection Move Over Mrs Markham by Ray Cooney and John Chapman. Two well-to-do married couples, a over-the-top interior designer, the obligatory nubile au pair, a brace of extra-marital dates and a jolly hockey-sticks writer of children’s books – all these in a penthouse flat on one summer evening.
Much hiding in cupboards, split-second opening and closing of communicating doors and an insistent telephone later, our married couples return to their senses, though with just a slight frisson added to their futures together. It relies on impeccable timing, straight faces throughout and the give-and-take of proper ensemble production. Richard Frost does it proud with a set by Maurice Rubens which makes the Southwold stage seem much bigger than it is and some judiciously selected costumes by Miri Birch.
As the title character, Joanna, Penelope Rawlins is every inch the immaculate corporation wife, even when she changes into a fetching succession of housecoats. Clive Flint as her husband Philip is extremely funny and maintains just the right sort of hangdog facial expressions.Michael Shaw makes Philip’s business partner Henry Lodge into a would-be Lothario on the surface and someone much less self-assured underneath it.
Viss Elliot-Safavi is Linda, Henry’s wife and Richard Bates has fun as her date for the evening, swamped by an outsize bowler and much given to the indiscriminate distribution of business cards. For my taste, Jamie Chapman failed to find the balance between Spenlow’s professional campness and actual fancying of Helen Armes’ Sylvie. Jill Freud has a good cameo as Miss Smythe, milking every East Anglian reference to the tip of its teat while Hayley Doherty gives a definite new meaning to the job description of telephone operator.