Snakes and Ladders, Norwich

JOHN LAWSON It's easy isn't it? Come up with that old British staple – a farce packed with illicit relationships, illegal dealings and dodgy characters and people it with a few well-known faces off the telly and you'll pack the auditorium.

JOHN LAWSON

It's easy isn't it? Come up with that old British staple – a farce packed with illicit relationships, illegal dealings and dodgy characters and people it with a few well-known faces off the telly and you'll pack the auditorium.

Well – at least you will until the word gets around and the audience dwindles as the run grinds on.

Unless, of course, you are offering a show that's very good. I've sat through far too many touring productions that just don't cut the mustard – so when a show comes up that's tightly written, packed from curtain rise to denouement with wonderful one-liners, and played by a company with the market cornered in comic timing, it makes the experience a particular joy.

I should hardly have been surprised with Snakes and Ladders, at the Theatre Royal, coming from the pen of Eric Chappell, creator of one of the greatest of all situation comedies, Rising Damp.

And in Paul Nicholas, director Jeremy Meadow had cast the perfect leading man. The stage simply fizzed when he was on it, eclipsing all around him – even fellow TV veteran Ian Ogilvy.

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Not that Ogilvy and their respective partners Judy Buxton and Rachel Rhodes didn't play their part – all very definitely had their moments in the sun as the story unfolded of two couples arriving at the same holiday villa.

Sam and Fay (Nicholas and Buxton) shouldn't have been there at all and fading soap star Howard (Ogilvy) certainly shouldn't have been there with Dodie (Rhodes) after leaving his wife at home.

And then there was the problem of the three identical holdalls, one containing half a million in cash from an armed robbery – leading to the arrival of the gang member (Peter G Reed) and the policeman (Brian Croucher) turning up to reclaim it.

Their characters were very much more cardboard cut-out and the conclusion did border dangerously on the edge of pantomime – but this was a thoroughly entertaining, uncomplicated night out. Just perfect for an August evening.

t Snakes and Ladders continues at the Theatre Royal until August 17. Box office: 01603 630000.

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