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See How They Run (Keswick)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

At the start of Philip King's See How They Run, Penelope, the vicar's wife in the sleepy St. Mary Mead-ish village of Merton-cum-Middlewick is taken to task for wearing (gasp!) trousers in public.

She's one of the lucky ones, as the next two hours features a succession of male characters who are unable to hang on to theirs. We are in the world of classic English farce, set in what we think of as a more innocent place and time – in fact, written and set during the second world war.

We may not initially realise that there's a war on, but we're on our feet even before the play starts, standing to attention for "God Save The King" at the end of a bespoke prologue informing us what to do in the event of an air raid, which cleverly gets nostalgic juices flowing before the curtain even went up.

It would take far too long to explain the plot leading to the utterance of the immortal line, ‘Sergeant, arrest most of these vicars!'; suffice to say that this is a world where, if a couple are rolling around on the floor together, it is because they are playfully re-enacting part of a Noel Coward play they have both been in, and where the obvious way to disarm a German prisoner of war pointing a gun at you is to get him to make a Nazi salute so you can tickle him into dropping his weapon.

All this, of course, has to be played dead straight, in a believable world, and Abigail Anderson's direction convincingly gives us the mannered and conventional middle class milieu of the 40s to which the characters belong. When chaos erupts, which it does with increasing frequency during the show, it is finely-judged and immaculately executed by a strong cast working together to produce hilarious moments of genuinely virtuoso physical fun.

What makes this comic business – the comic trips, the chases, the hittings-on-the-head, the drunken swoons – work so well are the responses of those onstage witnessing it.

At one point, a character recites Kipling's ‘If', and the production's success is in large part due to its ability to balance the onlookers struggling to keep their heads with those about them losing theirs.

A genuine ensemble triumph, with every performance a winner, and a great evening's entertainment.

- Stephen Longstaffe