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The Mating Games (tour – Westcliff)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Actors do like to be loved by their audiences. It’s entirely natural, of course, but there are some theatrical genres where this craving should never be allowed to break the make-believe compact between performer and watcher. Farce is one of these. It is only funny when the cast plays its improbabilities with the utmost seriousness so that the audience laughs at as well as with the players.

The revival by Bruce James of Robin Hawdon’s The Mating Game doesn’t manage this tricky balance. The women in the cast – Caroline O’Hara as the dowdy secretary yearning for her chat-show host employer’s attention, Emily Trebicki as the thoroughly liberated PR person and Sarah Whitlock as an over-the-top housekeeper – succeed far better than the two men. I almost thought that Edward Nudd as Draycott Harris’ brother James was going to pull it off, until her fluffed his big last-scene speech, admittedly taken at break-neck speed.

O’Hara’s transformation of herself into a slinky vamp works well, and Whitlock’s natty line in slippers suggests the domestic who’s seen it all before and still doesn’t think much of any of it. Trebicki perhaps doesn’t come over as a professional – except in the wrong sense of the word – but she looks right and keeps the fun at the right level of boil.

Damien Williams, not for the first time, seems content to step out of character every time something goes wrong on stage. Especially when he’s the cause of the missed cue or inappropriate corpse. It’s a pity, because he surely has the skills to play farce as it should be played – straight. There’s a set by Colin Camm which provides an interesting aspect of minimalism while failing to deliver any sense of come-lately penthouse luxury.

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