REVIEW: Confusion, chaos and a scandalous series of events

The Magistrate
The Magistrate
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The Magistrate, Manor Theatre Group, directed by Kathryn Felton, North Heath Hall, Horsham, Saturday, April 12

Little lies can lead to big problems.

This seems to be the central message of The Magistrate, Manor Theatre Group’s version of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rib-tickling farce.

The story concerns a magistrate called Aeneas Posket and his new wife Agatha, who get caught up in a series of scandalous events at a hotel.

At the beginning of the play we learn that Mrs Posket lied to Mr Posket before their marriage, telling him that she was five years younger than her real age. As a result, she has to pretend that her 19-year-old son, Cis, is 14, when he clearly has all the mannerisms and appetites of a lusty young man. Matters become more complicated when Cis’s godfather, Colonel Lukeyn, who doesn’t know about the deception, plans to visit. Mrs Posket meets Lukeyn at Hotel des Princes to ask him to keep quiet, but chaos ensues when Cis and Mr Posket secretly head for a night out at the same hotel.

Manor Theatre Group’s version of The Magistrate, directed by Kathryn Felton, is a largely successful comedy with larger-than-life characters and some truly hilarious moments.

Microphones placed at the front of the stage mean that the play is sometimes a little hard to hear. However, this show demands loud and exaggerated performances, which the cast offers, making up for any sound issues.

Cis, the story’s main troublemaker, is played with a likeable youthful energy by the amusing Stephen Foster. He presents a character smart enough to solve all manner of problems, but one that is too thick to know his own age.

However, Dennis Manning is definitely the star of this production with his hysterical performance as Mr Posket. His sense of comic timing is evident in the first half, but the actor really flexes his comedy muscles in the second. Posket turns into a trembling, paranoid wreck with a guilty conscience and an injured nose, eventually having a tremendous meltdown to rival one of Basil Fawlty’s. The slapstick is well-handled and the 130-year-old script still contains some real zingers, which Dennis delivers brilliantly.

John Oade also gets a good response as Lukeyn, a character who seems determined to remain dignified despite the silly plot twists that land him in embarrassing situations.

Helen White is very funny as Mrs Posket, pushing her character’s haughtiness in a way that provokes laughter without feeling excessive. Sarah Ward does a good job as the heartbroken and hungry Charlotte, while Julian Tiley offers an enjoyably dim-witted performance as her former fiancée, Captain Vale.

The play contains a surprising number of secondary characters, seeing as the action revolves around quite a small central group. It could be argued that this isn’t necessary, with some secondary characters just being there to provide additional jokes, but, then again, it is a comedy and these figures help keep the gag-rate high.

Besides, if the audience’s laughter is anything to go by, then their presence certainly has the desired effect.

Overall then, Manor Theatre Group’s version of The Magistrate is a success, offering a fun, joke-filled night of engaging amateur theatre.