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Talking passionately about a quality farce



Review by David Munro

ALAN Ayckbourn's 1970's farce How The Other Half Loves, re-appears on tour at the Richmond Theatre where it proved that its magic was still as potent today as it was 30 odd years ago, if the audience last night was anything to go by.

Using an all-purpose set, which represents the living quarters of two households - that of Julia and Frank Foster, played by Sue Holderness and John Challis, and that of Gary and Teresa Phillips - Gary Turner and Carli Norris - it traces the events in their lives over four days.

The mainspring of the plot is that Julia Foster and Gary Phillips had, unbeknownst to their respective spouses, spent the evening together, and this sets off a chain of misunderstandings and recriminations involving not only them, but another couple, William and Mary Featherstone - Richard Kane and Lavinia Bertram.

As in all farces, the plot and its resolution matter less than the antics of the protagonists and the pace of the production, which prevents the audience observing the flimsiness of the proceedings.

I must be one of the few people left in Britain who has never savoured the delights or otherwise of Only Fools and Horses, a television sit-com which featured, in supporting roles, characters played by Miss Holderness and Mr Challis.

I therefore was able to enjoy their performances without any arriere pensee as to their past successes and was able to enjoy their performances with a fresh eye and enjoy them I did.

Both proved themselves adept farceurs, savouring every idiotic situation and line of dialogue with gusto and panache.

While Gary Turner and Carli Morris were not in their league, they gave perfectly adequate supporting performances, which in no way detracted from the pleasures of the evening; and the same can be said for Richard Kane and Lavinia Bertram as the put-upon Featherstones.

In fact, Lavinia Betram's flight screaming from one 'apartment' to the other, was one of the highlights of the evening.

The direction and control of the goings on onstage were capably handled by Mark Piper, a name not at present known to me, but one I anticipate I shall become more familiar with in the near future.

He is clearly a director of taste and talent.

Julie Godfrey's set served the purpose it was called upon to perform, namely in one space to differentiate two disparate living areas sympathetically.

One cannot view farce with the same critical judgement one gives to more meaty drama; but none the less, farce badly done is a miserable experience and so it is, in its own way, as skilful and difficult to perform successfully as Shakespeare and, perhaps, in some respects more so.

Badly done it is leaden and creaky, as the production of a Feydeau farce recently seen at Richmond proved all too painfully.

John Challis and Sue Holderness, with their supporting cast, proved that in capable and competent hands, farce is still eminently enjoyable and, in these depressing times, a welcome relief from the Telly.

It is rumoured that the other farce to which I referred is now awaiting a place in the West End . If such a place becomes available, this production deserves to get it in precedence over the other and I hope that, for the sake of those who have yet to enjoy How The Other Half Loves, that space is allotted to it. It deserves it.

How The Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn, Directed by Mark Piper, Designed by Julie Godfrey, Lighting Douglas Kuhrt, Sound Rob Langley, Costumes Hilary Bloomfield. WITH: Jon Challis, Sue Holderness, Gary Turner, Carli Norris, Richard Kane, Lavinia Bertram. A Theatre Royal Windsor, Churchill Theatre Bromley Production presented by Bill Kenwright at Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond. Tickets 020 8940 0088.

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