The main difference
between a farce and a riotous comedy seems to come down to one thing - the
number of doors. In the latest incarnation of Philip King’s timeless piece,
the set is not large - though it still manages to feature four of them - and
they all are used with a frequency which reinforces the impression that this is
farce at its very best.
Set in the
of Merton-Cum-Middlewick, the opening action harks back to a time in
Middle England and the mid-1940s when the most important things in village life
were judgemental neighbours and the local gossip. Penelope Toop Siobhan
O’Kelly is the free-spirited vicar’s wife but she will always be an ex-actress
in the eyes of “spinster-of-the-parish” Miss Skillon, who is played with almost
matronly aplomb by Lucy Speed.
Miss Skillon is
disgusted at the thought of such an unsuitable vicar’s wife and, after seeing
her wearing trousers and waving at a passing soldier, she is so incensed that
she heads straight for the vicarage to vent her feelings to the vicar, portrayed
with ecclesiastical accuracy by Alastair Whatley.
When Mrs Toop’s old
friend and acting partner Clive (David Partridge) suddenly turns up the pace quickens
and, with the arrival of the Bishop – not to mention a stand-in vicar, a German
POW and even a dog - we fall headlong into the uncomfortably hilarious lunacy
that makes this piece one of the finest of its genre.
Then Rachel Donovan
as the vicar’s cockney maid Ida, steals scene after scene with her attempts at
discretion and loyalty to her employers, her dislike of Miss Skillon and some
hilarious rubber-faced slapstick at the height of the madness.
Arthur Bostrom is
suitably aloof, and more than a little bit camp, as the Bishop of Lax, uncle of
Mrs Toop. It is he who, at the height of the confusion, utters the immortal
line “Sergeant, arrest most of these vicars!” Rhys King is manic as the
escaped POW and Leo Atkin delivers a performance of comic genius as Reverend
Despite the wartime
vicarage setting, the humour in this piece is timeless with moments of pure
slapstick genius that are extremely well received by the audience. Farce, as a
genre, is much maligned in the rather highbrow world of theatre but, for a side-splittingly
good night out with laughter guaranteed, catch this production. But do be quick
- they run very fast.