When it comes to farce, works such as Don’t Dress for Dinner, No Sex Please, We’re British, Noises Off and Boeing-Boeing are all classics of their times. In 1998 Dry Rot was voted as one of the National Theatre’s 100 plays of the century– and, back then, it probably was. Today it just seems terribly dated.
The plot concerns a gang of crooked bookies who come up with a “get rich quick” scheme in which they intend to kidnap the favourite in the big race and replace it with a tired old nag. That, as is quite usual for a farce, is the full extent of the main plot. There are a couple of love-story side plots and, of course, a set with four doors, one set of French windows and a secret wall panel leading to the cellar in order to facilitate the myriad of, mostly, well timed comic entrances and exits.
Liza Goddard plays Mrs Wagstaff, the dizzy blonde “lady-of-the-house” – the house being a run-down hotel that was purchased some six months ago but that has yet to see its first guest. Goddard’s comic timing and wistful one-liners are as superb as always and it is her, together with the incomparable Neil Stacy playing her retired colonel husband, who steals the show.
Stacy is almost “Fawltyesque” in both his mannerisms and his speech and, throughout the production, looks like he could quite easily start quoting from that series and still in be in character in the play. While he is both delighted that their hotel finally has some guests he is also disgruntled at having to share his home with them, and he gets the lion’s share of the belly laughs as he deals with the increasingly bizarre antics taking place around him.
The love story plotline featuring the hotelier’s daughter, Susan (played by Evelyn Adams) and Mark Martin as John Danby, the recently appointed bookie’s “secretary” is full of 50s innocence and charm while the simultaneous love connection between Gemma Bissex as the wonderfully simple West Country hotel maid Beth and Steven Blakeley playing the bookie’s runner, Fred Phipps, is a bit like passing a car crash – you shouldn’t stare, but you just can’t help it!
The crooked bookie, Alfred Tubbe, is played by Andrew Paul with Gareth Hale as his sidekick, Flash Harry. Both men perform well, but there is little chemistry between them and, as a consequence, a few comic opportunities go unnoticed.
The final two characters in the piece are the French jockey, Albert Polignac and the police sergeant played by Michael Keane and Sarah Whitlock. Both are quite minor parts, made better by the superb acting of the pair. Keane leaves behind his Irish routes to sound authentically French and the sergeant is perfect at displaying horrified facial expressions as she, continually, walks on stage to see various male characters in a state of undress.
Although it’s possibly not the finest example of its genre, Dry Rot is still a fun night out and worth seeing – if only for the spectacular entrance made by the winning jockey!