Monday, 17 December 2018

‘Hurricane farce’ gales of laughter

THE scale of funniness stops at hilarious. You can go no higher.

THE scale of funniness stops at hilarious. You can go no higher.

It means relentlessly, even painfully, funny — that, in a nutshell, sums up It Runs in the Family at the Mill at Sonning. We were crying with laughter throughout this impossibly funny show.

It may be because of the inspired casting of Harry Gostelow and Nick Wilton, who form the backbone of the production. It may be because of the excellent ensemble playing. Or because of the express train speed of the direction. It may be all of that and some more.

Even those who don’t like farce will be swept up in this hurricane-force play. On the face of it the script shouldn’t be as funny as it is — funny, yes, but not as funny as this.

It gets to warp speed because it is so tightly directed and performed that not a gag, a pratfall, nor a movement are wasted. It careers on through mishap after mishap with just enough time to allow each event to sink in before moving on.

Brian Hewlett’s Bill reacts to a telephone call response of “Hello, hello!” by singing “Who’s your lady friend?” It shouldn’t be funny, really, but we cracked up.

If it had been one step below this pace maybe it wouldn’t have been so effective, but it is.

The plot is typical Ray Cooney — full of hypocrisy, deceit, cowardice and pomposity, so it’s already rich with comic potential. Neurologist David Mortimore is preparing for a big moment when his world is upended by an old flame turning up to tell him he’s a father.

Everything must be done to avoid his wife learning, so lie after lie is concocted and compounded.

He enlists his colleagues’ help, usually unwittingly, to keep the lie going. Gostelow and Wilton as Mortimore and his foil Dr Hubert Bonney are outstanding.

You can only hope they eat well before the lights go up because they throw everything at these roles. They are constantly on the move expending nervous energy, going from frustration to arrogance to despair.

And they are backed up by a supporting cast which manages to make each part a star turn in itself — not an easy thing for a director to achieve.

Take another bow John Arthur as Sir Willoughby, Elizabeth Elvin as matron, Jonathan Niton as the police sergeant, and especially Brian Hewlett’s Bill, who stole the show every time he so much as raised an eyebrow.

But also, take a bow and a bunch of flowers director Ron Aldridge.

The play was surprisingly light on some elements. Confusion and misunderstanding are there in abundance but there are no vicars, no dropped trousers and no scantily clad women — although matron’s bloomers are removed at one point in a McGill-postcard moment.

But this is real farce at its peak, so don’t stop to think about it. In fact, don’t stop to think, let the whole thing hit you like a typhoon. It won’t hurt.

Until July 2.

Review: Mike Rowbottom

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