Accused of infidelity by his jealous spouse, theatre manager Charles Pentwick (Philip York) takes refuge at a friend's country cottage, unaware that his wife (Emma Gregory), their son (Patrick Myles) and the girl suspected of being his mistress (Roisin Rae) are hot on his heels. For reasons passing understanding, Pentwick's actor pal Bobby (Jason Baughan) is forced to disguise himself as the house's female housekeeper. And further complications arise from a nosey scoutmaster (Roger Sloman of Nuts In May fame) whose unwelcome intrusions necessitate yet another layer of ludicrous subterfuge.
In many ways this improbable tale resembles something Alan Ayckbourn might knock out in a lunch hour, which is handy as Sam Walters' production transfers to the Stephen Joseph in Scarborough in June. In its hero's fear of social embarrassment and his domineering partner, however, its closest corollary would appear to be Fawlty Towers - an impression bolstered by the presence of a quick-witted maid (Claudia Elmhirst) whose very name, Molly, recalls Connie Booth's long-suffering Polly.
The irony is that - unlike one of Feydeau's philanderers - Paxton and Hoile's protagonist has done nothing untoward. Yet such is his terror of the very appearance of impropriety he will go to almost any length to forestall it. It's this peculiarly British characteristic that lends an additional flop-sweat of desperation to the play's litany of humiliations ("My wife is in imminent danger of being massaged by a low comedian!" wails Pentwick at one point) and helps root the increasingly unhinged narrative in recognisably human foibles.
We have been down this leafy lane many times before, but the sense of familiarity does not detract from the sterling efforts of Walters' eight-strong ensemble, with York managing a double-take every 30 seconds and Baughan making the most of his Charley's Aunt - style disguise. And though the pace conspicuously flags after the interval, this polished revival has a vivacity, high style and laugh-a-minute ratio that put most modern "comedies" to shame.
- Neil Smith