Michael Frayn’s Donkeys' Years is revived at the Comedy Theatre, 30 years after it was first seen in the West End. Many of the critics who attended the press performance last night (9 May 2006) found much to enjoy – and reminisce about - in the farce, given a fresh topicality thanks to coverage of John Prescott’s adulterous affair and other recent Government media crises.
Twenty-five years after graduation, six former students return to their university college for a reunion dinner. While their lives may have had varying degrees of success, all are connected by a common past. Locked in college for the night, the graduates begin to relive their youth, with all its chaotic friendships and feuds.
During the weekend’s antics, a cabinet minister (David Haig) attempts to cover up a possible career-ending scandal, a priest (Michael Fitzgerald) becomes a nun and the master’s wife (Samantha Bond) may – or may not – have been murdered. The Donkeys' Years ensemble company, directed by Jeremy Sams, also comprises Mark Addy, James Dreyfus, Edward Petherbridge, Michael Simkins, Jonathan Coy and Chris Moran.
** DON’T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to Donkeys’ Years - including a FREE programme & FREE drink at our exclusive post-show reception with the cast! – on Thursdsay 6 July 2006 – sorry, this event is currently sold out - click here to join the waiting list for extra tickets or cancellations! **
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com - “This glorious revival of an early farce reminds us that Noises Off, probably the funniest play in English since the Second World War, was no accident.” Michael Frayn captures “so perfectly” the “curious mixture of anxiety, nostalgia and masochism such reunions engender. Twenty-five years after graduating, the edges have been knocked off these shining hopefuls, paunches have appeared, hairlines receded. But the old pecking orders and animosities remain… Haig’s blend of self-importance and absurdity is a recipe for comic delirium.” Coveney concluded: “In all, a triumphant revival: delicious, delightful, definitive.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard - “I found myself overwhelmed with amusement when Michael Frayn’s 30-year-old farcical comedy… hit the heights of comic invention and remained there for several vintage, blissful minutes.” De Jongh raved about the “delicious essence of the first half”, although the second, more farcical act, left him “fairly cool… There is no missing the ingenuity with which Donkeys' Years brings on catastrophes, but there comes to be something mechanical and contrived about the pile-up of apparently damaged reputations. Jeremy Sams’ production… works best before the shift to farce.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian - “David Haig's performance as the hapless minister is a classic of its kind. Haig cunningly suggests the self-importance of the born politician instinctively treating a chair-back as if it were the despatch-box; which makes it all the funnier when he is reduced to manic fluster as he waddles round his room with ankles shackled by a pair of recalcitrant trousers. Even Prescott was not more ludicrous than this.” He was also full of praise for the other cast members, including the “brilliant” Samantha Bond and Mark Addy who “captures the pent-up anger of the nerdy outsider”. According to Billington, Donkeys' Years is a “play that gloriously makes a bonfire of the genres and produces the kind of propulsive madness we last saw in Noises Off.”
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - Letts declared the show “a real belter …. Donkeys' Years is as fine an example of the genre as written in the last century. How merrily topical it suddenly seems, too. It features a government minister caught with his trousers round his ankles.” He particularly enjoyed the performances of James Dreyfus as an “Alan Rickmanesque misanthrope of a civil servant” and Samantha Bond as the school mistress who he described as “a cross between Judi Dench and Celia Imrie”.
- by Caroline Ansdell