Reviving an old Whitehall farce from the 1950s with a ridiculous plot involving three crooked bookies, a plan to switch a racehorse, and a country house hotel with secret cellars must never have been in anyone’s mind an odd’s on winner.
But the current tour of John Chapman’s comedy, while not perhaps the ‘classic’ it advertises itself as, which certainly shows its age, and is perhaps more amusing than hilarious, is a dead cert for entertainment value, helped along by some excellent and well-judged performances.
The play, which has been touring since May, has seen a few cast changes, but director Keith Myers ekes out just about as much as he can in the production, which raised many a chuckle from the small audience, though some of the more fast-paced farcical elements could still do with being tidied up.
Andrew Paul as Alfred Tubbe and Steven Blakeley as Fred Phipps are outstanding as the hapless rogues trying to make a quick few thousand by nobbling a sure-fire racehorse, playing off each other with the sort of expertise that reminded us of an established comedy act – some of the mannerisms are more than reminiscent of Jimmy James and Eli Woods – and they earned the biggest laughs, helped along also by Gareth Hale as Flash Harry.
Neil Stacy and Liza Goddard are good too, as Colonel and Mrs Wagstaff, the new hotel owners innocently at the heart of all the drama and farce taking place around them, while Mark Martin is a pleasing John Danby, the charming young secretary employed by the rascals, and the subject of a blossoming romance with the hoteliers’ daughter.
Gemma Bissix is necessarily irritating as the maid, but her over the top performance is at odds with the rest of the cast and she grates, though she won plenty of laughs. Adding to the titters are Michael Keane’s French jockey and Sarah Whitlock’s Peggy Mount of a police sergeant.
The fact that the production manages to lift itself out of the awkward and the painful in a piece which should probably be left in the hands of capable amateurs is to be praised and the fun being had by the performers is laudably shared with the audience throughout to the extent that the creakiness could be almost overlooked.