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See How They Run - Richmond Theatre (Review)

See How They Run, Richmond Theatre

Review by David Munro

SEE How They Run is a typical wartime British farce although it has been somewhat eclipsed by the later Whitehall/Brian Rix farces.

Its first appearance in the London area was December 1944 at the now defunct Q Theatre and it transferred to the Comedy Theatre in January 1945, where it clocked up a run of 589 performances.

Worm’s Eye View, the first of the Whitehall farces, opened in December of the same year, and only achieved a run of 500 performances (although when it returned, after a tour, to the Whitehall in 1947, it trebled that figure with a run of 1,745 performances and the rest is history).

The original production featured George Gee, a leading player in pre-war musical farces, as Lance-Corporal Widd with a young, and relatively unknown, Joan (Miss Marple) Hickson as Ida the maid.

A farce to be acceptable must be fast, funny and fundamentally plausible. This production satisfies these criteria.

Set in the living room of the vicarage, a room well-equipped with enough doors, cupboards and staircases to accommodate the shenanigans of the cast, it takes place during the course of one afternoon and evening during which characters lose their trousers, are mistaken for each other, spinster ladies become drunk and libidinous and the male characters chase each other around the stage and back again in various stages of undress.

At one moment, for no apparent reason, a dog appears in the chase to the great delight of the younger members of the audience. It is all very good natured and very funny.

Credit for this must be shared equally between the excellent cast and the admirable and sympathetic direction of Douglas Hodge. Both keep the action flowing and just this side of the unbelievable.

They are aided by a very competent and well plotted script, by Philip King, which allows each comic incident to arise effortlessly from the one before and to create an amusing and seamless whole.

As I have indicated, all the cast are good. Natalie Grady is especially noteworthy as Ida the maid, a character which could well slip into Su Pollard land but which she keeps firmly under control and stamps on it her own, very individual personality; a beautiful piece of farcical acting which I shall relish in memory for many a long day.

As the Lance Corporal (now renamed Winton), who turns out to have been partnered with the vicar’s wife in a tatty tour of Private Lives, Jo Stone Ewings extracts every ounce of humour out of a part which is the mainspring of the farce.

He assumes other character’s identities at the drop of a hat, rolls on the floor in simulation of the love scene of the Coward play and searches after his lost uniform with a delightful parade of expressions stretching from disbelief to despair while retaining the essential good humour and sangfroid of the feckless character he is.

His confrere in mischief, Hattie Morahan, as Mrs Troop, the Vicar’s wife, only really comes into her own in the second act where she treats every convolution of the plot with the insouciance of a good vicar’s wife.

Similarly, Julie Legrand lifts the archetypical village spinster out of the stereotype into a wonderful zany persona who is thrown around the stage like a drunken Dutch doll without ever losing her equilibrium; a wonderful concept, beautifully executed.

The rest of the cast are really there to keep the action flowing. Simon Wilson as the trouser-losing vicar, Benjamin Whitrow as the bemused Bishop trying to make sense out of the chaos he has strayed into, and Nicholas Blane as the visiting preacher all have their moments which they seize and give point to.

I especially enjoyed the moment when Nicholas Blane has his glass of sherry stolen from him and has to mime politely for the benefit of the vicar’s wife that he has got it in his hand and is enjoying the drink; a wonderful moment of mime superbly executed.

Oh yes – there is also an escaped German and an army Sergeant to add to the complications, played by Adrian Fear and Chris Macdonnell, although both seemed somewhat surprised and confused at what they had let themselves in for.

As you will have gathered, I have little to criticise and a lot to praise about this production. Go and See How They Run and you will enjoy seeing how well they get away with it.

See How They Run by Philip King.
Directed by Douglas Hodge.
Designer – Tim Shortall.
Lighting – Ben Ormerod.
Sound – John A. Leonard.
CAST: Jo Stone-Fewings; Benjamin Whitrow; Hattie Morahan; Julie Legrand; Simon Wilson; Nicholas Blane; Adrian Fear; Chris Macdonnell; Natalie Grady.
Presented by Touring Partnership in conjunction with the Theatre Royal, Plymouth.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Tues, Feb 28 – Sat, Mar 4, 2006.
Evenings: 7.45pm/Matinees Wed & Sat: 2.30pm.
Box Office: 0870 060 6651.