See How They Run
Norwich Theatre Royal
Norwich Theatre Royal
First performed more than 60 years ago, Philip King's See How They Run has been described as the funniest farce ever written.
Certainly it is crammed with staples one thinks of when contemplating that genre: cases of mistaken identity based on someone wearing another's clothes, unlikely couples caught in compromising clinches; it's all here, along with much flustered hurrying through French windows.
But if these capers appear a trifle worn, consider: the enormous success of Little Britain indicates there remains a public appetite for such 'traditional' humour.
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Thankfully, Douglas Hodge's production tackles the assorted scrapes with full-blooded conviction.
There is something rotten in the village of Merton-cum-Middlewick. At least, there is in the eyes of uptight harridan Miss Skillon. For, quite apart from the threat of impending Nazi invasion, her worst suspicions regarding Penelope Toop, the vicar's young, trouser-wearing wife, are apparently confirmed when the latter goes on an illicit theatre trip with old chum and fellow actor, Clive Winton.
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The situation can only deteriorate with the unexpected arrival of Penelope's uncle, the Bishop of Lax, and by the time Miss Skillon, unconscious from imbibing a bottle of cooking sherry, is hung from a coat-hook in the broom-cupboard, things have descended into, well, farce.
While the script is rightly hailed as a classic, if not the epitome, of its type, sustaining interest in the absurd goings-on calls for a first-rate cast capable of vigorous physical comedy.
Fortunately, all the actors without exception serve the material admirably. Simon Wilson plays the Reverend Toop with bumbling affability, and Jo Stone-Fewings is also excellent as Lance Corporal Clive Winton, alternately effortlessly urbane (On putting on the vicar's collar: 'I feel like a pint of Guinness') and comically harassed. However, Natalie Grady almost steals the show as Ida, the gloriously indiscreet maid, and wrings every last drop of humour from a juicy comic role.
Running until Saturday, See How They Run is a reminder of gentler times, and an opportunity to see obvious enjoyment communicated with aplomb by a top quality cast.