Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 19 June 2013

Four Farces

Wilton's Music Hall ⋄ 18th – 27th June 2013

A quartet of Victorian comedies.

Stewart Pringle

Bashing heartily through four topping one-act farces, the European Arts Company have brought their belting portmanteau of Victorian comedy classics to Wilton’s, where they feel so apt you can almost believe the management excavated them, fully-formed, during their recent restoration work.

Running at a little under half an hour a piece, each of the shorts has its charms, and each is played with the same committed but well-judged effervescence by the role-hopping cast of three. ‘Box and Cox’, which kicks off the proceedings, is the justly famous tale of a slick hat salesman and grungy news printer who find themselves unknowingly co-habiting thanks to the machinations of their thrifty landlady. Richard Latham – whose restless energy and toothy expression suggest the offspring of Alastair Sim, a horse and another horse – masters the first of his four roles as Box, while John O’Connor is equally impressive as his cowardly room-mate.

The play is by John Maddison Morton, and stands up beautifully, filled with punchy one-liners and an eye for the absurd – you might almost say the mathematically absurd, with its ridiculous symmetries and repetitions – that is enduringly bright. There’s another Morton to come later, the similarly striking ‘A Most Unwarrantable Intrusion’, which not only comes close to matching ‘Box and Cox’ in comic power, but also pre-empts the disturbing intrusions of Joe Orton’s The Ruffian on the Stair in its story of a sudden arrival that devastates the peace of an elderly gentleman. There’s another great part for Lantham, and O’Connor busts out some classic pratfalls as the bathing-suit clad home-wrecker.

If the two remaining pieces are somewhat cast in the shade, it’s only through the surprising longevity of Morton’s writing, and taken on their own merit both ‘Wanted, A Young Lady’ and ‘Duel in the Dark’ are perfectly decent shorts. Both fall-back rather too heavily on cross-dressing for both their comedy and their complications, but the latter is notable for giving the excellent Asta Parry a chance to shine as the plucky wronged wife exacting revenge for her husband’s attempted infidelity.

All four are skilfully directed by Jonathan Kemp, who keeps a steady hand on the energy levels, wisely keeping his company on just the right side of frenetic. Kemp understands that farce should exhaust its characters, not its audience, and there’s as much attention paid to the drily witty aspects of the plays as the histrionic. There’s no attempt to excuse the plays with post-modern winking either, or to disguise their delicious predictability. The penny usually drops, or begins to drop, long before the revelations emerge, but there’s a delight in watching it gradually descend, as if gyring round a garish charity wishing well.

The set by Tomasin Cuthbert feels a little tour-weary, and possibly a fraction too fussy in the first place, but the costumes and scenic details reflect the same care and attention as Kemp’s direction. All in all, Four Farces offers a fine evening of short plays that had the hall lurching from titters to all out belly laughs, and the chance to see two of Morton’s minor masterpieces performed by such a skilled company is not one to be passed up lightly.

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Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Four Farces Show Info


Directed by Jonathan Kemp

Cast includes Richard Latham, Asta Parry, John O’Connor

Link http://wiltons.org.uk/

Running Time 2 hrs 15 mins (inc 15 minute interval)

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