Beyond A Joke by Derek Benfield - directed by Tricia Childs
"The curtain opened on one of the most effective sets I have ever seen, the stage being bisected by a "wall" with a window and door that lead from the living room to the garden. Not only that but the living room had a functional cupboard as well as an additional door into what I presume was a hall or kitchen. The garden area had brick built columns stage left, trellises and flowers at the back and a garden path that clearly ran behind the living room. Large props such as sofa in the living room and rustic seat in the garden, together with small props, combined to create two excellent acting areas. Furthermore the movement around the stage, sometimes with as many as eight cast members on stage simultaneously (including the vicar, who was dead by this time), was clever, with no-one masking anyone else.
This play was highly reminiscent of a 1970s sitcom, with initial misunderstandings being compounded to create a whole series of dialogues at cross-purposes. This began as mildly amusing in Act 1 and built to such a crescendo of silliness in Act 2 that one couldn't help but laugh. I was slightly resentful of such a weak script in Act 1 struggling hard to accept that such a catalogue of misfired communications could possibly take place but by the middle of Act 2 had suspended my disbelief long enough to go with the flow.
Given that the script was what it was the key to success was pace and delivery and Geoff Hadley, as the rather curmudgeonly Andrew was the lynchpin to this play. He was good during Act 1 but really got into his stride in Act 2 in terms of speed and vocal inflection. Angela Gee, who played Andrew's wife, Jane, was a good foil to Geoff and together they conveyed just enough faux concern for their unfortunate visitors that one felt that Geoff, played by Richard Langley, could have been right all along with his belief that these visitors were victims of foul play. Richard made a strong debut as Sally's boyfriend and Maria Dockree was a delightful Sally. Joan Lanario plays the dizzy parts very well and her Sarah combined the slight hesitancy of someone under pressure with the almost carefree calculation of a criminal quite accustomed to tipping a TV repair man in the pond until it was convenient to move him elsewhere. Chris Wright's vicar was excellent, managing to capture the clerical stereotype of a bygone age, complete with bicycle clips and battered straw hat. Julie Lissamore and Syd Smith as Geoff's parents Audry and Edgar had less to do but were convincing as the visitors confused by Jane's curtain-drawing fetish and dazed by Andrew's wheelbarrow rides to the vicar.
This was an enjoyable production albeit with a play that is perhaps not as fresh as it was 10-20 years ago. Nevertheless, Phoenix has a strong track record with comedies (Trivial Pursuits being my favourite) and have demonstrated they can do them well. I look forward to the next one."
Stewart Adkins-National Operatic and Dramatic Association
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