I like farce. When done well it provides an entertaining night out with lots of laughs and a canny look at the peculiarities of social norms and morals. It’s a comforting form of entertainment where the entire piece is dictated by rules and form (like panto) and the creativity comes in exploiting these and finding something new to say within.
Unfortunately, it’s particularly easy to screw this up. All it takes is a slip in the timing, an inferior round of wordplay, or a bad mood in the audience to ruin everything.
Rookery Nook, now playing at the Chocolate Factory, is closer to the latter than the former. Looking at the sexual mores of the educated class, the play revolves around a trio of chaps trying to avoid the image of impropriety when a girl runs away from home in the heat of an argument. Of course, the girl’s reputation is already in tatters as one of the fellows’ wives took it upon herself to spread false rumours about her relation to her foreign stepfather.
Eagle eyed readers will notice that there is no actual misconduct here (though one of the men, who resembles Cary Elwes is clearly a rogue on his best behaviour). The fun in farce comes from the cover-up: keeping the three stewardesses apart in Boeing-Boeing, making sure the play runs in Noises Off, but so much of the actual “keep away” is absent here: there are only brief moments of threat at the end of the first act and the start and of course end of the second. Secondary characters take much of the time (a crusty admiral in the second act, a second girl added to make things worse in the third) and it keeps the pressure and the tension from achieving a properly tightened torque.
That’s not to say that everything about the show is awful: I quite liked the cast, and the costumes will please anybody who reads The Chap. There was some slightly clever lighting, and the play almost managed to keep my attention focused enough to ignore how uncomfortable the benches were (yes, my arse was numb at the interval. Fortunately there was spare room and I was able to shift around a bit during the second and third acts as revenge for the loudly crinkling people behind me.)
Is it amusing throughout? I guess. I was never bored, but the first act was distinctly underwhelming and the play only reaches top gear in two or three brief moments despite the dialogue flying past. The Whingers attribute this to the set being too big and taking energy from the jokes, and I’m likely to agree: despite being the Menier being a small venue, farce needs to be in cramped or expanded settings so that action can be concentrated (or distracted from). I think the ultimate weakness, however, lies with the script by Ben Travers: It’s a bit too by-the-book and lacks the oomph needed to really reel in the laughs.
But the Menier’s next show is Forbidden Broadway and all is therefore forgiven.
Where: Menier Chocolate Factory
When: Until 20 June. Tu-Sa @ 20:00, Sa/Su @ 15:30
How Much: £25/£34 (the latter being a meal deal with the venue’s restaurant.)
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £10. Safe, take your mum theatre with nice costumes.
RZ Other Notes: The assigned seating policy remains! I’ve never been on the black benches, but the red ones are desperately in need of some padding. Hopefully the money coming in from La Cage can help fund some decent seats!