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Party Piece de resistance is a welcome survivor



Review by David Munro

PARTY Piece is an old-fashioned Comedy Farce of the type which, in the past, gave light comedians the chance to delight the coach parties and the not too demanding theatregoer.

A breed of play which has been sadly ousted from the West End by more intense and dramatic fare. It is good, therefore, to see that the genre is not entirely defunct and to welcome Party Piece as a gallant survivor.

The plot in this sort of play is immaterial, it is the dialogue and the talent of the cast which provides the evening’s enjoyment, or not as the case may be.

Party Piece is set in two adjoining gardens. In one, a doctor and his wife are preparing for a house warming barbecue which ultimately proves a disaster; in the other, a son is trying to persuade his father to sell the house and move into more appropriate accommodation. In the second act, the two sets of characters combine for the final curtain.

Hardly Ibsen or David Mamet but the director, Mark Piper, put his cast through their paces admirably and ensures that an amusing couple of hours is spent by all.

He is aided and abetted by a first class cast headed by George Cole as the irascible and conniving old father.

Mr Cole is, of course, an experienced comedian whose theatrical credits ante date the last war.

Nonetheless, time has not withered his skill and it is a delight to see his comic talent so gainfully employed.

His deployment of his Zimmer frame, which he does not really need, turns this harmless piece of equipment into an instrument of war which he uses to discomfort his visitors and is one of the joys of the evening.

As his fond and put upon son, David, Peter Amory draws a very convincing character proving that there is life after Chris Tate.

His attempts to hide his exasperation at the old man’s obduracy while coaxing him into a better frame of mind are both funny and strangely touching.

His put-upon wife, Jennifer (whom George Cole refuses to mention by name), gives Tracey Childs the opportunity to run the gamut of chill hostility to comic exasperation when she throws the old man's Zimmer frame over the garden wall; a very funny performance.

Mathew Cottle, as Michael, the doctor neighbour, gives an admirable performance of pompous inefficiency as he tries to get the barbecue set up despite his wife having failed to defrost the food; in fact, the first act is punctuated by the comic efforts of Finty William’s Roma, trying to rectify this gaffe.

My only real disappointment in the play was that the character of Roma was too bird-brained and fluttery to be convincing.

It was a stereotyped part and Miss Williams didn’t manage to disguise or conceal that and tended to overplay characteristics of the character rather than letting them appear natural.

However, every now and then flashes of the family talent showed through (she is the daughter of Dame Judi Dench) and I have to confess, despite all, she made me laugh.

The only two guests who turn up to the barbecue, Toby (Harry Costelow) and Sandy, (Katy Landis) were well played and amusing, although their parts were only designed to give the other principals the opportunities for farcical behaviour which they seized on gleefully.

This is by no means a great play but it is well acted and directed as I have said and as such it is a Party Piece which justifies, in this production, its revival.

Party Piece by Richard Harris; Director, Mark Piper; Designer, Julie Godfrey; Lighting, Douglas Kuhrt; Sound, Bob Langley.
CAST: George Cole; Peter Amory; Tracey Childs; Mathew Cottle; Finty Williams; Harry Costelow; Katy Landis.
Presented by Bill Kenwright.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, Jan 24 – 29, 2005
Evenings 7.45pm / Matinees Wed. & Sat. 2.30pm
Box Office: 020 8940 0088

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