Somewhat inept Health and Fitness proprietor Eddie Manchip is making every attempt to save his Health Spa from the ever escalating costs of running his resort in a large and rather decaying country mansion; he is also doing his best to avoid the clutches of a sinister gangster who is bent on collecting the deeds to the property, which Eddie has signed away in order to pay off a gambling debt. Add to this the fact that all but one of his staff have resigned, and the comings and goings of his self-important, philandering brother and dominant wife, his brother’s would-be nudist girlfriend (a potential investor), her Scottish husband and an enthusiastic pillar-of-the community on a mission to collect second-hand clothing for charity, and the result is inevitable – chaos!
Farce (of which Who Goes Bare is a prime example) is a very heightened, exaggerated form of both verbal and physical comedy, with the most absurd and improbable plots (humorous because of their ludicrous and ridiculous natures) set in unlikely locations, traditionally with five ‘doors’ that become an integral part of the visual comedy and deliberately excessive characterizations. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I admit that from a childhood growing up with the antics of the Marx Brothers, I really do enjoy a good farce – and this is certainly what ASDS have provided with hilarious results!
Director Peter Nunan remarks that farce established ASDS’s “good reputation” – and it is easy to see why! He has ensured excellent comic timing and pace throughout, making full use of not just five, but ten, various entrances and exits, with sharp and precise timing as the characters burst in and out of the main lobby with split-second accuracy. The dialogue is delivered quickly, but never garbled, and the plot (such as it is!) hurtles along at a cracking pace.
Set in non-specific modern times, the play itself does have a ‘1970s’ feel to it, not least because of John Sivewright’s performance as Eddie being so strongly reminiscent of Basil Fawlty’s antics. This is in no way a criticism, quite the opposite in fact, as he has not only seemed to base his character on the infamous hotel manager, but also succeeded in establishing his own distinct character as he endeavours to keep control of the mayhem ensuing around him.
He is well matched by Chris Meineck as his brother, Brian, whose comic expertise is never better shown than by his manoeuvring himself up and down stairs with nothing but a framed picture covering his modesty, and his antics as a ventriloquist’s dummy, just two examples of his comic timing and physicality.
Rosie Hodgkinson gives a stellar performance as Brian’s wife, Joan, superb with every mannerism, gesture, expression and exquisite comic timing as Joan’s mistaking vodka for water takes effect… the transitions between the aspects of her character are brilliantly portrayed, both verbally and physically.
Jon Cockeram, in a play where clothes become ‘optional’, has more costume changes than the rest of the cast put together – and pulls them all off (along with the distinct caricature identities of his multiple personalities) with aplomb! Again, his comic timing and physicality is first rate.
There is so much to enjoy amongst the other performances as well, with no weak links at all among the cast, especially from Louise Richards as ditzy maid Minnie (although I wouldn’t recommend Minnie as a masseuse!), Sheila Clapcott as the enthusiastic collector of clothes, Kerrie Goodenough as nudist Nancy and James Webb as her Scottish, traditionally-kilt-wearing dour husband.
In the Chairman’s programme notes, there is an apology for not continuing the recent practice of using radio mics for actors (in this case for obvious logistical and sartorial reasons!); however, there really is no need for apologies here, as both diction and projection are excellent throughout from all members of the cast. The set is well designed and constructed to keep the action on different levels and the audience’s eyes darting all over the set as the characters emerge and disappear throughout, also reflecting the slightly dilapidated state that the building is supposed to be in.
All in all, this is a thoroughly entertaining and appropriately confusing state of affairs!
Further performances Friday and Saturday evening (7.30pm), with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm; catch it if you can!