Follow Us on Twitter

The Safari Party - Richmond Theatre (Review)

The Safari Party

Review by David Munro

THE Safari Party is really a moral tale disguised as a comedy – the moral being it is better to tell the truth than lie and don’t believe everything you are told.

In this case, the lies involve a dining table and its provenance and beliefs are those of people who find it hard to accept things the way they are. The Safari Party of the title has nothing to do with big game hunting in Africa but is the name given to a dinner party, each course of which is served in a different house, although in this play, each act a course, very little gets actually eaten.

Three households in Cheshire have agreed to hold a “safari party”. The hors d’oeuvres are the responsibility of two impoverished farming brothers, Daniel (David Brown) and Adam (Jack Ryder), whose abusive father had recently killed himself by accident.

The main course is to be served by Lol (Christopher Timothy) and Esther (Sara Crowe), his wife (who have made their money in the sale of golf equipment and moved to live out their idea of the country), with the help of their streetwise and cynical daughter, Bridget (Helen Noble).

This course is served on an ostensible antique dining table, which they had purchased from Inga (Illona Linthwaite), an antiques dealer who had recently bought it from Daniel and Adam, selling it on to Lol and Esther at a staggering profit.

When the brothers sold it to Inga, they invented a slightly colourful history for it to increase its value, and when she re-sold it she invented an even more colourful provenance.

The dinner party ends up at Inga’s for puddings where the truth about the table emerges and all the company learn some home truths about themselves and each other.

The play emphasises the difference between reality – the brothers’ model farm is now a rubbish tip – and fantasy – the self deception of the “townies” view of the idyllic “Jane Austen” countryside.

All the characters except Bridget are in one sense or another self-deluded and the play highlights the need of self deception and delusion as a basic necessity of being able to cope with life.

The author takes swipes at the current obsession with “heritage values” and the pretentiousness of the upwardly mobile classes, involving everything from “butty ball” tables (on which to play an archaic form of golf) to the erection of eyesore conservatories needed to enhance the desirability of a house.

Despite all this, the play has times when one is allowed to glimpse the other side of the coin proving that nothing is totally black, merely different shades of grey; even the vulgar and self-centred Lol and Esther have moments when they show themselves to be capable of some humanity.

The play ends on a cynical note very much in keeping with the characters depicted.

Christopher Timothy does what he can with the blustering and hectoring Lol. He never convinced me that he was a successful businessman (unless it had been in the rag and bone trade) but I think the part was outside the range of his usual quiet persona yet he certainly deserves beta plus for effort.

Sara Crowe is a delight as the strangulated vowel, prim and prissy wife desperately trying to keep up with the Jones’ (even if they constantly let her down), trying to disguise her background and please her husband all at the same time. She really touched the heights of comedy when she discovered that the table they are eating off had been in the locale of a violent death and the jug the drink is served in had been used to catch the victim’s blood.

A sort of manic calm descended on her as she tries to cope with serving food, controlling the hysteria of herself and others, and yet maintaining a Good Housekeeping vision of the perfect hostess; a masterly moment and a highlight in a consistently superb comedy performance.

Helen Noble, whose total career, according to her CV, has been pantomime and Hollyoaks brought a cool cutting edge to Bridget – the voice of reason in the heightening storms of hysteria and misunderstanding which were swirling around her.

She was a perfect foil to Sara Crowe in their scenes together, each enhancing the other’s performance. This too was a masterful and witty performance and while she did not act Sara Crowe off the stage (few could achieve that), she gave her a good run for her money; I look forward to further rewarding evenings in Miss Noble’s company.

As the bucolic brothers, Jack Ryder and David Brown were a good duo. I thought Jack Ryder tended to overdo some of his more emotional scenes but perhaps that was what the author intended, the emotionalism of the father inherited by the son. It certainly contrasted well with David Brown’s more matter-of-fact approach which paid off in his description of their father’s death and made it a moving moment.

Poor Illona Linthwaite, although her character causes all the trouble, she had little or nothing to do, apart from appearing for a few moments in the last act and delivering the curtain line. I did wonder if, for some reason, her part had been cut because logically, if she was part of the dinner party round, she should have appeared in the first two acts.

As it was Miss Linthwaite showed she could have handled a bigger part well had it been allotted to her.

While this is not a great play, it is an enjoyable evening’s entertainment and worth going to see, if for nothing else, for the performances of Mesdames Crowe and Noble.

The Safari Party by Tim Firth.
Directed by David Taylor.
Designer – Julie Godfrey.
Lighting – Nick Richings.
CAST: Christopher Timothy; Jack Ryder; Sara Crowe; David Brown; Helen Noble; Illona Linthwaite.
Presented by Val Leyland for The Producers Partners Ltd in association with The Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Tues, April 18 – Sat, April 22, 2006.
Evenings 7.45pm/Matinees: Wed. & Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 0870 060 6651.

  1. I went to see this production and I thought that Christopher Timothy was magnificent in the role of Lol. We recently put on an amateur production of The Safari Party and, as the director, the way I encouraged our actor to play Lol was just as was played by Christopher Timothy. I love the play, one of the few that, upon reading the script, you laugh out loud. Tim Firth is an excellent writer.

    Catherine Everitt    May 3    #