Out of Order on National Tour

Love it or loathe it, farce is probably the most quintessentially British style of theatre, and Ray Cooney's pleasing tale, Out of Order, is a prime example of it. The fact that this production also boasts some of the most well-loved stars of British comedy - including Gorden Kaye, Colin Baker, Trevor Bannister and Henry McGee - should stand it in pretty good stead.

Government minister Richard Willey (Kaye) happily bunks off from a Commons session for a night at the Westminster Hotel with a blonde secretary (Ruth Burton) from the opposition's office. But when a dead body is found on the balcony, a chaotic and amusing cover-up begins, as Willey's hapless private parliamentary secretary George (Bannister), the pompous hotel manager (Baker) and dithering elderly waiter (McGee) constantly interrupt and confuse proceedings.

Matters are brought to a head when the blonde's husband, Willey's wife and a frustrated nurse show up, and it emerges that the dead body isn't dead after all. There are characters wandering around in their underwear, bodies shut in the wardrobe, mistaken identities and a host of increasingly unlikely explanations in Willey's attempts to hide the real reason he was at the hotel.

Confused? You will be. Trying to explain the frantic comings and goings would probably give even Cooney a headache, but commotion and disorder are of course essential elements of farce. Along with precise timing.

And that's where this production falls down, at least on the night I saw it. Lines were continually fluffed, situations which required split-second timing fell victim to pregnant pauses, and the whole thing seemed generally under-rehearsed.

To be fair, to put the whole thing together in two weeks, as this company has done under director John B Hobbs, is something of a feat, but they would have fared better by devoting at least twice that amount of time to turn the piece into the frenetic, speedy show it should be.

That said, there's nothing really wrong with the individual performances, and I'd hazard a guess that the piece will be a good ten minutes shorter and infinitely sharper by the end of the tour. Out of Order a classic just waiting to happen.

Elizabeth Ferrie

Out of Order tours to:

Regent Theatre, Hanley, Stoke, March 27-April
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, April 3-8
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne April 11-15
Newcastle Theatre Royal April 17-22
Orchard Theatre, Dartford April 25-29
Bath Theatre Royal May 1-6
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield May 8-13
Lincoln Theatre Royal May 15-20
Malvern Theatres May 22-27
Towngate Theatre, Poole May 30-June 3
Key Theatre, Peterborough June 5-10
Forum Theatre, Billingham June 12-17