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Two Into One (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Ray Cooney directs and appears in a revival of his 1980s political farce

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The cast of Two Into One
© Catherine Ashmore

Whitehall farce is as dead as a dodo, except in the corridors of power, of course, but Ray Cooney's 1984 classic - "There's far too much sex going on in this hotel, and I'm not having any of it," cries an exasperated manager - is still twitching in its coffin.

Dick Willey MP (Michael Praed), number two at the Home Office, is dodging a meeting about the Vice Bill to have sex in the afternoon with a married secretary (Kelly Adams) of Mrs Thatcher. His wife Pamela (Josefina Gabrielle) doubles back from a matinee of Evita to ensnare Dick's PPS, George Pigden (Nick Wilton), in the neighbouring suite of the Westminster Hotel.

This isn't Feydeau, so nobody gets lucky, let alone nooky. Instead, there's a pile-up of excuses, slammed doors, frantic cover-ups, false names and alibis so dizzying that you stop laughing to try and keep hold of the plot; which is more than the actors can. Pigden, supposedly booking the second suite for a "Charles Easter of Chichester" is instantly dubbed "Noel Christmas of Norwich," a gynaecologist who practises in Norfolk but does it in St Thomas's.

In benefit week for the over-80s (following on the Lansbury/Blakemore Blithe Spirit), an implausibly fit and flexible Ray Cooney directs his own play and potters around as a wispy-haired old waiter, even moving the furniture with a skip and a jump between scenes as Julie Godfrey's clever, perfectly conceived design slides between suites and reception area.

That role was originally played as an acrobatic Chinese waiter (by the great Derek Royle), the leads by Donald Sinden and Michael Williams as a sort of ecstatically speeded-up reprise of their Lear and Fool double-act for the RSC; there's less physical mayhem this time, with Praed's ultra-cool Willey leaving Wilton to implode hilariously in improvisatory desperation, while Cooney, well, coos.

Gabrielle is simply gorgeous as Pamela, physically controlled and emotionally glacial, even in a baby-doll nightie, while Jeffrey Holland is an imperturbable mountain of a hotel manager and Jean Fergusson a strait-laced gorgon of a vice-detecting Labour MP (think Gwyneth Dunwoody crossed with Betty Boothroyd).

Cooney possibly misses a trick with having the secretary's callow husband Ted (Tom Golding), unexpectedly returning from a skiing trip with a sprained ankle, not played by a muscle-rippling hunk, as the plot spirals into an educational medical film (trousers down) with Ted mistaken for a gay tea boy from the Foreign Office.

Praed's civil surface is disrupted by his own attacks of hay fever and subsequent involuntary cackles after swallowing half a box of Benzedrine, and poor little Jennifer, whose disguise of a ginger wig is variously pressed into service as Neil Kinnock and a furry animal lodged in Willey's fundament, gets stuck in a tea trolley and pushed from pillar to post like an unwanted prize in pass the parcel.

You can't really be a purist about farce but, if you were, you might mutter "too much plot" or "too many loose ends." Still, the mechanical ingenuity is literally mind-boggling and Cooney is an absolute master of making every line, however feeble, count: the situation changes, usually for the worse, every time someone opens his or her mouth and puts a foot (not a sock) in it.