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Birthday Suite (Sheringham)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Two mirror-like ajoining hotel rooms, complete with connecting door, provide the backdrop for Robin Hawdon’s farce. The stage is certainly set for an evening of comic misdirection and mayhem. The calmness of the hotel-suite set is shattered by a Fawlty Towers-esque couple in the form of Richard Earl, playing the long-suffering Italian waiter-come-bellboy Tony, and Jamie Chapman, in the role of the bumbling Bob. These two, bursting into the left-hand suite, could not be a more mis-matched duo; Earl’s Tony is brash and overbearing, while Chapman’s Bob is still standing in the doorway clutching at his overnight bag like a lifebuoy.

Bob, we learn, has come to the hotel for an illicit night with the glamorous Mimi, whose services have apparently been purchased for him by a well-meaning friend as a birthday present. As Bob is left alone to straighten his argyle sweater and stand nervously berating himself in the mirror, ‘Oh Gawd!’, we can see that he is in over his head. Tony soon bursts in through the door of the opposite suite trailing a reluctant and edgy Kate (played by Madeleine Brolly) behind him, also clutching her handbag desperately. She is here to meet the successful psychiatrist Dick for the first time, after meeting via an online dating agency. After some haphazard explanations to do with the ajoining door between the rooms, Tony leaves the two onstage for the madness to begin.

Mistaken identity and some very British blundering ensue as Kate and Bob take each other to be the partners they were expecting to meet. Once Dick, Kate’s dating agency match, arrives on the scene, further complications abound, and chaos truly is unleashed when Bob’s jilted wife Liz appears instead of Mimi! Simon Thompson’s direction is tight and the characters utilise the unusual set well, maintaining the energised performances which are so essential to the success of farce plays.

In this frantic piece, Earl’s Tony is the glue that holds the disparate characters together, also providing much physical comedy; his gregarious Italian gestures playing well against the stilted British mannerisms of the other two men. Bob, in particular, is a very loveable goon of Frank Spencer-type proportions, and Chapman pulls this off with a quite brilliant awkwardness.

The twin-roomed set creates much potential for comedy; particularly poignant is the scene in which sharp-tongued Liz berates her husband’s many foibles, such as polishing cutlery with his tie, while Bob acts them out, unaware, on the other side of the wall. Earl’s waiter dashes frenetically from room to room adding to the general pandemonium while the men and women switch partners as they scurry from one hare-brained scheme to another.

As the play does rely largely on physical comedy, with a couple of witty one-liners thrown in for good measure, some of the characters are left feeling inevitably one-dimensional, though the actors all do well with what they’ve been given. Parts of the performance do feel a little stilted as the intricacies of the farce are explained multiple times to the audience, adding an unnecessarily tedious edge to the proceedings. A play first produced in 1983, the weight of several decades may be starting to weigh upon Hawdon’s script, as it does seem slightly dated in parts.

Overall audiences will enjoy navigating this intricate web of ineptitude, bolstered by stereotypically British fumblings and slapstick comedy, including an unexpected incidence of drag...

As a whole, the play is enjoyable, if a little tired in places, but the cast play well off each other to create some genuinely funny moments.


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