Chichester's much anticipated Festival Summer Season opens with an ineffective sparkler rather than a rocket. The revival of Tom Stoppard's 1981 farce is prettily set but also pretty dull and irredeemably slow.
On the Razzle is a take on a couple of 19th-century plays which culminated, a hundred years later, in Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker and (with music) Hello Dolly. Wilder first added the character of Dolly Levi, and judging by this production, a good thing too, since Stoppard reverts to the original texts.
The play concerns a pompous provincial merchant, Zangler, who plans to take a jaunt to Vienna to meet his fiancée. This gives his underlings the opportunity to go 'on the razzle'. The merchant has forbidden his niece to associate with her unsuitable sweetheart. They all end up in a posh Viennese restaurant, giving rise to pandemonium, hiding under tables and much running around. Unfortunately, in this production, they do not run fast enough. There is far too much declamation delivered in a style which the Bard would appreciate, and far too little energy.
Even Stoppard's linguistics cannot save this show, although his verbal jokes are amusing enough with a wealth of word confusions which could only be identified by a foreign born national's perception of the English language.
Notionally, there is enough talent on stage to carry the day, but under Peter Wood's direction, Desmond Barrit's Zangler seems uncomfortable and unsure of the style in which the piece should be performed. Alan Cox raises some laughs as the merchant's manipulative servant, Melchior, delivering his lines in a manner which appears to be a cross between Eric Morecambe and Paul Daniels. There is also a cross-dressing part, the junior assistant Christopher, in which Daisy Donovan (yes, she of TV's 11 O'Clock Show) alone gives a stand out performance. A large, but unnecessary, ensemble move about to Robert Lockhart's cod Viennese music and a couple of acrobats from Cirque du Soleil perform some tricks as well as playing a (rather good) pantomime horse. Oh yes, there is a lot going on but not much of it is compelling and the entire company seems to be suffering from a form of degenerative lethargy.
The versatile but uncluttered settings (by that old stager John Gunter) were, however, great. So if, after 2 1/2 hours you want (as was famously said of Lionel Bart's 1960's musical Blitz), to leave the theatre whistling the sets, then this is the show for you.
Stephen Gilchrist (reviewed at Chichester Festival Theatre)