‘Chinamen’ and ‘The New Quixote’ by Michael Frayn, Burgess Hill Theatre Club
Sometimes the actors eclipse the storyline in a good evening’s entertainment.
That was how the first of two one-act plays by Burgess Hill Theatre Club struck me.
‘Chinamen’ has been described as a wonderful farce in which two actors play five characters at a dinner party. But Michael Frayn’s writing stretched the imagination too far and at times it seemed tedious.
Picture a scenario where a couple who have asked people to dinner then try to keep one of them in the kitchen and the others in another room. Not easy; we were required not so much to suspend disbelief as to hang it from the highest tree.
This daft dining followed as wife Jo invited her friend, Bee, new boyfriend and other guests while her husband Stephen disastrously invited Bee’s deserted husband. The couple contrived to keep the estranged husband and wife apart. But even for a 45-minute farce this dish was difficult to swallow.
As often happens in these capers opportunity knocked for doors, with three of them forever opening and closing in bewildering fashion.
What saved it all was the outstanding acting of Harry Greatorex in a dual role as Stephen and unwelcome guest Barney and Daisy Hook as wife Jo and guest Bee.
Daisy’s third role as the male Alex was one too many and confusing because there was simply no disguising the fact that Daisy is a woman.
Both actors delivered their dialogue strongly, their character change-overs were performed smoothly and they confidently dropped into their new skins.
Equally fine acting came from another duo in the second play, a much more engaging piece of humour and examination of the human spirit.
In The New Quixote, Hannah Wilson perfectly encapsulated the lying older woman who was dismayed to wake up to find she had slept with a younger man.
Phil Hawkins as over-confident lover Kenneth brilliantly spouted the psycho-babble designed to dismiss Gina’s well-grounded fears after he arrived with stereo set to set up at her home next morning, not even stopping to have Mummy’s cooked breakfast.
The way Gina turned the psychological tables on the mixed-up Kenneth was a terrific piece of acting on a night of four excellent performances.
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