Reviews

The Spy in the Stalls, Stephen Fall

★★★

Jennifer Selway’s exceedingly clever writing is maximised by a cast able to expertly tease out every laugh possible

Flat Out is a good, old-fashioned farce. It details an afternoon in the lives of a small group of people in a prestigious but mice-infested South Kensington flat (hence the pun of the title) during the Brexit-centric month of March 2019.

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The plot is too much of a tangled shaggy-dog story to summarise sensibly, but it begins with an illicit tryst between dental hygienist Angela (Jennifer Matter) and lawyer Giles (Richard Earl). It certainly grabbed everyone’s attention when, in the opening seconds, Angela removed her coat and dress to reveal a skimpy Ann Summers outfit. But the couple’s anticipated pleasure is endlessly delayed by a chain of unexpected visitors.

In keeping with the style of a typical farce, bad luck, coincidence, misunderstandings and mistaken identity drive a sequence of increasingly absurd and improbable events. The comedy comes from the thickening web of inexplicable statements and actions that only the audience can understand. Jennifer Selway’s exceedingly clever writing is maximised by a cast able to expertly tease out every laugh possible from each other’s escalating misfortunes.

It’s very much a London show, with an obvious fondness for the city demonstrated by references to its locations, landmarks and public transport. There’s a fair amount of satire, too, with nods to gender politics, greedy estate agents, social media and what it means to be rich or poor in a bitterly divided Britain. While the Brexit theme is a subtle one, it’s nevertheless an important thread running through the narrative.

Timing all those entrances and exits so perfectly can’t have been easy, but the coordination of this complicated, often highly physical comedy is superbly managed by director John Plews and the entire Ovation company. And the ingenious, economical set design by Emily Bestow made it possible for the various comings and goings within the flat to interact seamlessly as doors opened and closed and windows were hastily clambered in and out of.

The way the various loose ends are resolved at the end makes for a hugely satisfying conclusion to a play that balances hilarity with a sophisticated look at the way we live.

View the original review at The Spy In The Stalls

Taxi, Brad Ashton

The great Faydeau farces were superseded by Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and Alyn Aykbourne’s Bedroom Farce and a stream of very popular farces by Ray Cooney.   Lately they seem to have disappeared to make way for more subtle and sophisticated forms of humour.   

In FLAT OUT,  playwright Jennifer Selway has reverted to flat out broad comedy, with the modern premise of a  luxury flat being illegally sublet.  She has the rightful occupants frantically resorting to all manner of shenanigans to avoid their lease being terminated.   These include posing as an assortment of unlikely characters making a variety of comical excuses for being there when the suspicious landlord’s representative turns up.    They even resort to the classical ruse of a man cross-dressing and posing as his own supposed twin sister, to fool the investigator.  

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The plot, permeated by panic, engenders sex romps, gay collusions and even rampant roving mice to keep the action sizzling and milking every scene for the maximum possible laughs.   

Actors insist that comedy is the most difficult form to play, but the eight members of the cast, under the astute directing of John Plews, make it look simple.   

The show runs at this venue till 30th June.

 

Sardines, Rebecca Swann

★★★

A new comedy/farce which had the audience guffawing from the off.
Fast-paced, witty and tremendous fun. British farce at its best with all the classic elements but updated for a modern audience. The writing is easily as good as The Play that Goes Wrong by Mischief Theatre, who are adding two new farces this year, showing that the genre is alive and kicking with plenty of audiences up for the jokes.

John Plews (director) has gathered together an excellent cast with great chemistry and perfect timing to deliver his high-spirited and energetic production. There are so many comings and goings – escapes out the bay window on to the scaffolding, hiding in the bedroom and broom cupboard and exits in and out the front door I was exhausted just keeping up.

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Claire (Cathy Walker) and Hugh Carmichael (Stuart Simons) have been renting their prime location, Kensington flat for decades, but have long since moved out to their ‘enormous, posh place’, so the flat is currently empty awaiting its new tenant. The action takes place over two hours when Claire has lent the flat to her friend Angela Crabbe (Jennifer Matter) for an afternoon of supposed adultery with Giles Fletcher (Richard Earl). Add to the mix; Marina the over-zealous cleaner who may just be an illegal immigrant (Hollie Taylor), Sandrine the new tenant who isn’t quite who she pretends to be and has ulterior motives for renting the flat, Tim Forrester (Jake Mitchell) the officious representative of Oistins management company and Phil Gibson (Tom Pepper) the dodgy neighbour from the flat downstairs whose wife appears to have gone missing, and we have a hilarious farce on our hands with all you would expect; mistaken identities, entrances and exits to make you dizzy, cross dressing, a potential murder (or two!) and lots of doors.

Jennifer Selway’s writing is clever, funny and up to date; there are mobile phones but of course people forget them, no-one blinks an eye at the cross dressing or the potential lesbian relationship but the confusion that reins creates hysterical situations that allows the audience to laugh and forget about being PC.

Stuart Simons is outstanding and steals the show in parts as the fabulous cross-dressing banker Hugh, with his effeminate preening and pouting. He is a tall man and with his red dress, blonde wig and the five-inch, Christian Louboutin red soled shoes he towers above everyone and is simply hilarious. The audience loved it and he played along to us superbly.

I can see Flat Out taking hold in amateur theatres across the country with its simple stage set of one room with multiple entrances and a small cast of eight actors that can be almost any age. Or even a tour – it’s that good.
Well worth a night out Flat Out is on until 30th June. The Farce is back in town!

View the original review at Sardines

 

Reviewsgate, William Russell

★★★

They are dreadfully unfashionable these days, but Jennifer Selway has taken the classic ingredients of farce – adultery, cross dressing, lost trousers and venal servants – given them a stir and delivered a really road worthy piece. The great Ray Cooney, master of the genre, one of whose plays ran for nine years in the West End would probably bestow his blessing on it. He might suggest a tweak or two here or there, and one or two are needed – Ms Selway has used the happiness pun joke twice as a language misunderstanding when used by a foreign character, and really that one has had its day. But otherwise things go with a bang in John Plews’ energetic production and his first rate cast deliver all that is required of them. The play might die the death in today’s West End, sated as it is with second rate musicals, but if it does not attract the Highgate audience in droves for a really good old fashioned night out then there is no justice in the world.   No criticism of the present cast, but as a touring production with a couple of well-known names in central roles and it ought to do the same round the regions.

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In a mansion block in South Kensington the occupants are facing renovations and the prospect of being bought out by new, ruthless owners. Angela (Jennifer Matter) has borrowed it for the day to have a tryst with barrister Giles Fletcher (Richard Earl) from her friend Claire Carmichael (Cathy Walker).  Claire has arranged to sub let it to Sandrine (Grace McInerny) but forgotten to tell the cleaning lady Marina (Hollie Taylor) an illegal immigrant from Russia.  Add her husband Hugh (Stuart Simons), who has not told her he has lost his job, and also happens to cross dress, Tim (Jake Mitchell), a loathsome little nerd from the developers who is trying to get the tenants out, and Phil from the flat below (Tom Pepper), whose late partner was the tenant – he wants to get the money for agreeing to go – and the possibilities are endless. Apart from anything else Sandrine is not who we think she is and Marina the Cleaner has secrets of her own as well as knowing everyone else’s secrets.

Sights to treasure include Angela in her naturally black lace underwear and a magnificent red dress, which Hugh eventually gets to wear pretending to be the missing Trudi, while the final joke involving just what to do about malevolent Tim is a delight.  The added ingredient? The place is infested with mice – apart from the odd human rat.

Emily Bestow has come up with a nice old fashioned mansion block set with four doors and a bay window with scaffolding outside which also serves as an entrance and exit, multiple doors and exits are vital in the world of farce, and there you have it. The punch line possibly takes a moment or two too long to arrive, but when it does it is a killer. This is one of those jolly, undemanding nights out at the theatre which leaves one pretty well laughed out.

View the original review at Reviewsgate

London Pub Theatres, David Weir

★★★

Farce, writes Jennifer Selway in her programme notes, is often treated sniffily by critics. She has a point. Farce fell into disrepute sometime in the 1970s when a glut of trouser-dropped, cupboard-hiding, wife-cheating bores began to look a little passé as Joe Orton gleefully deconstructed the genre before Michael Frayn joyously nailed the coffin lid down with Noises Off.

But the precision-tooled farce remains both a joy for an audience and one of the toughest technical challenges a theatre company can face (as Noises Off also so brilliantly demonstrates).  Jennifer Selway assembles the traditional ingredients for her updated take on the classic 1970s farce – scantily clad woman (tick), man in a dress (tick), scaffolding outside the window to facilitate observation, overhearing and escape (tick). 

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It’s a Kensington flat and the leaseholders (Cathy Walker and Stuart Simons) are illegally sub-letting to pay for their lifestyle while their suspicious estate agent looms. The flat’s been loaned out to a pneumatic dental hygienist (Jennifer Matter) and philandering barrister (Richard Earl) for a naughty afternoon of much-to-be interrupted coitus. Add a new tenant (Grace McInerny), who happens to be the barrister’s daughter, and a dodgy downstairs neighbour (Tom Pepper), and misunderstandings and hilarity ensue under the beady eye of the fearsome Marina the Cleaner (Hollie Taylor), who knows everyone’s secrets.

Characteristic of an Ovation production directed by John Plews, the mechanics of this are super-smooth – entrances, exits, lights, the ringing of phones, the placing of props all beautifully timed and executed. The set’s terrific, too, with no fewer than four doors and a window to enable an amiably enjoyable two hours of comings and goings.

The script handles the mechanics of its complicated plot well (particularly a satisfyingly funny extended ending) without quite convincing as a modern take on an old genre.  

View the original review at London Pub Theatres

Comments from the audience after the first night.

(These are real people – honestly – we haven’t made them up!)

Hilary – What a brilliant British farce, it was like a modern day Oscar Wilde play. Good natured, great timing and very funny characters. The acting and script were terrific.

Margaret – This was a very funny play, laugh from beginning to end. Excellent

Patricia – Fast and funny. Excellent evening with great acting all round. The characters are accurately observed. A delight.

Stella – I would give this production 10 stars if I could. What a delight! Brilliant actors, brilliant plot, the best of British farce. All the actors were superb. What a fun evening.

Stephen – Great show, well written and thought out. Actors were brilliant, a very enjoyable evening.

Supriya – Amazing show!! From start to finish it kept us entertained. Brilliant performance. All actors were superb.

Susan – Great fun and great script delivered cleverly and hilariously by a terrific cast. All the elements of a romping good farce in this lovely venue.

Pamela – An unexpected hilarious delight. Exceeded my expectation and laughed throughout. Original witty dialogue, spot on comic delivery and fun evening. The cast were on top form. We were still laughing when we came out of the theatre.

Roderick – A good old-fashioned traditional farce which was well performed and directed, with a good set design.

Peter – Definitely an intelligent farce – a great evening.