Leigh's farcical comedy proves just the tonic

Review by Paul Nelson


UPDATED VERSION: Smelling A Rat completed its initial run to standing room only audiences earlier this year and the Union Theatre has invited the company back, this time certainly by public demand. That phrase is overworked but in this case it is true.

Naturally, the cast is excited by all this and it should add a certain spice to our enjoyment of the production. I have promised to go and see it again which is no hardship, it is a comedy that never gets dull.

The new dates are from April 16 to April 27 with no performances on either Sunday or Monday.

THE ORIGINAL REVIEW: TWO of my favourite talented actors, both unsung, are appearing together in Mike Leigh's farcical comedy Smelling A Rat at the tiny Union Theatre in Union Street, Southwark.

The company, Streetcar9 Productions, is the brainchild of one of them, Ian Rixon, a company formed as many others are from the desperation of actors being unable to work because either no agent will come to see their work or no management will entertain the idea of employing unknowns no matter how good. This is endemic in London today, whereas in New York everyone knows which management is looking for what and gets a fair crack of the whip. Small wonder they throw up world stars on a much more regular basis than we do.

Rixon and Tyrone Atkins are two actors worth crossing the Sahara to see, the Thames therefore presents no problem. Both actors did not let down my faith in them.

The Union Theatre itself sprang from a similar frustration as that felt by actors and is a magnificent example of determination in the teeth of opposition.

Smelling a Rat is a highly original and very funny play previously only seen at the Hampstead Theatre in 1988 and here gets a well deserved if belated revival.

The action takes place in the bedroom of Rex Weasel during Christmas time when Mr Weasel and his wife are supposedly on holiday in Lanzarote. Into the flat come Victor and Charmaine Maggot. Victor works for Weasel and is checking that the flat hasn't been burgled in his boss's absence. Unknown to him Weasel has returned and hearing them as they enter the flat, in classic French farce mode, he hides in the wardrobe. It needs to be revealed that this elegant bedroom is almost lined with fitted wardrobes.

Hearing yet more people enter the flat, Victor and Charmaine also hide in another of the wardrobes and Weasel's son Rocky enters with his girlfriend Melanie-Jane.

Rocky, unlike his name, is a timid fellow of few words whereas his dumb girlfriend is most garrulous.

On discovering the pair in the cupboard, Melanie-Jane screams the place down and is only placated when they identify themselves. However, the discovery of another man in another wardrobe proves too much for her and she locks herself in the en suite bathroom.
The situation gets funnier as it progresses and is a splendid vehicle upon which Mike Leigh hangs his scintillating dialogue. The script crackles with jokes and the cast more than take advantage of the fact.

One scene guaranteed to have any audience rolling in the aisles is where Charmaine, trying to coax Melanie-Jane out of the lavatory, sings the song Charmaine through the bathroom door, to no avail. Meanwhile, with the discovery of his father and his father's right hand man in the bedroom where he had planned to woo Melanie-Jane, Rocky, never one to see eye to eye with his father, becomes catatonic.

The play, production and cast are breaths of fresh air which this reviewer deeply appreciated. Good comedy played well is a tonic at all times. This one with its sure fire wit is not to be missed.

Smelling A Rat by Mike Leigh directed by Ben DeWynter. With Bob Rixon (Rex Weasel), Indi Madray (Charmaine Maggot), Ian Rixon (Victor Maggot), Rudi Symons (Melanie-Jane Beetles), Tyrone Atkins (Rocky Weasel). Presented by Streetcar9 Productions at the Union Theatre, Union Street SE1 020 7261 9876.