The clue as to the content of the latest production at The Duchess Theatre is in the title. In fact it does exactly as it says on the tin and does so even before curtain up. Whilst the audience are settling into their seats, the stage management team are still putting the finishes touches to the set and enlisting the help of a person in the front row to hold up a mantelpiece that won’t stay up on its own. This is arguably the funniest part of the whole play with the running gag being that a door won’t keep shut and the aforementioned shelf over the fireplace keeps falling down.
This play highlighting the worst that can happen with am-dram was a great success at Edinburgh and the cast, three of whom wrote it, must be rightly thrilled with it’s transfer to the West End, following stints at The Old Red Lion and Trafalgar Studios. Although one could say it’s a poor man’s Noises Off and not as clever, it is hilarious in places. I imagine it has been extended for the London run and this is where it falls down. The running gags run out of steam, with much of the visual comedy carrying on far too long. Half way through, the mishaps that happen to the actors and set are all too predictable and although it did manage to make me laugh, I have to say that those people around me seemed to laugh that much more. But then maybe I’m a jaded old grouch.
The cast play members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society who are trying (and spectacularly failing) to stage a dreadful murder mystery entitled Murder at Haversham Manor. The set has a mind of it’s own and, as one would expect, there is more ham on stage than in a pork butcher’s shop.
Some of the cast ham it up better than others. I particularly enjoyed Dave Hearn as Max Bennett, a gangly twerp of the highest order, who is spectacularly good at milking laughs whilst simultaneously upstaging everyone else. The soundman, played by Leonard Cook, proves what can be done with a lesser role whilst Charlie Russell in trying to portray a vamp (Sandra Wilkinson) postures and preens. A less sexy female is hard to imagine. Because the characters being played are useless and thereby irritating, it’s easy for this irritation to cloud everything else. And, unfortunately, a couple of the cast irritated me so much, I was willing them to be hit by flying scenery and not be seen until curtain call. For this, read Jonathan Sayer’s butler character, Dennis Tyde. He, along with, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer wrote the play, which is where his strengths must lay.
The director, Mark Bell, does a handsome job with pace and alacrity, Nigel Hook’s set design works a treat, whilst the costumes designed by Roberto Surace are spot on.
All in all credit must go to the group of graduates from LAMDA who, instead of bemoaning their lot at not getting acting work, founded Mischief Theatre. Thanks to determination and hard work, they have a ‘Company That Goes Right’.