You know that thing where people say “I don’t like sprouts” and you say “Have you tried sprouts?”, they say “No” and you say “Well, how do you know you don’t if you won’t try them?” … They still won’t try them.
Well, the Farndale Avenue series of plays are my theatrical sprouts. The titles suggest to me that it’s going to be the sort of farcical, Am-Dram staple standard “Play within a play” thing that I just don’t want to either watch or be a part of. So, when I was asked to review Chase Me Up Farndale Avenue, S’il Vous Plait I thought – “Come on, Chaz. Eat the sprouts, man”. And, here I am.
Was I wrong in my presumption? Would I spit out the sprouts or devour them?
Well, I was wrong… Kind of wrong.
The evening’s entertainment starts with the house lights still up and two of the WI members, Mrs Reece (an excellent performance throughout from Jane Wright) and Thelma (wonderful multi-tasking from Carole Wilson), chatting with the audience and welcoming us to the evening. So, it’s “that” kind of “Play within a Play”.
It turns out that it’s a sort of “Play gone wrong”, Coarse Acting thing, and, for the most part, they carry it off really very well. The start had me, and the audience, laughing raucously. The timing of the many, many opening jokes is cooked to perfection when Helen Johns as Felicity comes on, dressed as ‘Fifi’ and beautifully mis-times the vacuuming, answering the phone, going back off again.
The Man of the piece, Gordon, is played well by Steve James, who gets all his jokes in as though his character was born to be part of an awful stage and, finally, we have Minnie, who really, really is not meant to be there and has stepped in at the last minute to do the play from book – and is truly not cut out for anything more than making the costumes. Judy Harris shines (if that’s the right word) in portraying the nervousness and almost child-like terror at being on stage in front of… Aaargh… People!!!
The cast and crew have clearly worked hard on timing this and making the jokes work, and for the most part, they go down well. There are a few “misses” and there is the occasion where you’re looking for something new to tickle you, but that is, I think, largely down to the onslaught of funnies from the start almost wearing out one’s funny bone, which is more down to the writing than the performing.
Don’t get me wrong, the laughs do still come as the evening goes on, but I think maybe a Farndale Avenue evening of One Act Plays would serve better and give more opportunity for fresh jokes. I wonder if one exists.
You know what, though? My reservations were unfounded and I had laughs aplenty throughout the evening and I’d go and see another offering from the Farndale Avenue WI franchise.
So, yeah, OK. It turns out I DO like sprouts. I still prefer the smelly Christmas veggie treat, but the theatrical sprouts do sit well with me.