Hold a mirror up to tragedy. What reflects back? Farce.
Michael Cooney's Cash on Delivery takes two very serious themes - benefits fraud and sudden death - and swirls them into a non-stop riot of laughter. You could describe it, as the theatre audiences of ancient Greece did, with the word catharsis. The necessary purging of pity.
Ian Dickens has assembled an extremely accomplished team of comedy players for this ten-year-old Whitehall Theatre classic. The fun is fast and furious with every double take, pratfall and door slam making its full impact. All of which happens not once but repeatedly.
Holding it all together is David Callister as Eastender Eric Swann and Kevin Kennedy as his hapless lodger Norman Bassett, providing a pair of neat characterisations of well-intentioned incompetence on the grandest of scales. Melvyn Hayes is a show-stealer as Eric's Uncle George, the sort of market-stall trader who almost makes wasting one's money seem like the best thing possible. As flexi-jointed as any acrobat, or marionette for that matter, his timing is impeccable.
This is the sort of play where the female characters are there mainly to cause even more trouble and to react to events in absolutely the silliest possible way. So Michelle Morris as Eric's wife Linda, Danielle Johnson as a well-meaning but not particularly bright counsellor and Victoria Bush as the archetypical Civil Service battle-axe hurl themselves across the stage, getting the wrong end of any stick which comes their way and generally getting in the way of the masculine mayhem.
Which is also what Geoffrey Davies as the Benefits Agency official whose check-up visit sparks off the whole tangle, Terry O'Sullivan as a marriage guidance counsellor who can't quite relate to his clients and Barry Howard as the most lugubrious of undertakers contrive to do.
The action all takes place in a living room off London's Mile End Road during one hectic morning. I couldn't quite relate the elegance of the set to this location, but that's a mere quibble. And actors waiting up the stairs to make their entrance need to be sure that their shadows don't reflect on the wall and so spoil the impact of their arrival into the chaos on stage.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage)