A well-constructed farce is a sure-fire winner, and that is what Broadstone Players have on their hands – or should that be Hans? – with this production. You don’t expect to be intellectually challenged by a farce; all you ask for is a convoluted plot, some good jokes and a cast who can put enough pace on the vehicle to keep it rolling merrily along. And at Broadstone War Memorial Hall this week, those wishes are granted.
In fact, the plot is so convoluted that a brief summary is all but impossible; suffice to say that the central character, Peter, is in Berlin as the representative both of a British motor manufacturer and of an industrial espionage agency. He is beset by his wife, his mistress and a strip-o-gram girl sent him as a birthday present, not to mention his superior in the spy agency. His efforts to keep them all apart and, when that fails, to invent reasons for them being there provide the mainspring of the play. As he has to make up more and more lies, so he digs a deeper and deeper hole for himself.
The script, by John Chapman and Michael Pertwee, is a cut above that of many farces, with some good jokes, clever word-play and genuinely funny doubles entendres among the more obvious targets such as the German language and gags like ‘I’ve been shot.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Up the fire escape.’ (Maybe you had to be there.)
Peter is on stage for the whole play and everything revolves around him, so this is a feat of endurance and memory by Calum Williams for which no praise is high enough. Too often, the lead actor in a farce thinks that rushing frenetically around and pulling faces is essential, so it is good to see such an understated performance. Although Calum does puzzlement and frustration well, he if anything underplays the part rather too much and he would do no harm by reacting a little more obviously to the misfortunes that crowd in on him.
As Mitzi the strip-o-gram girl, Val Smith takes full advantage of a fun part and brings out the character’s good nature. Fee Stewart, playing Sexpot Heidi in a spectacular golden wig, maintains her German accent well. Monica, Peter’s wife, appears pretty thick but turns out to have hidden depths, and Amanda Senitt conveys both aspects of the character convincingly.
The programme implies that Kevin Sissons, who plays spymaster Walter Cadwallader, is settled in Broadstone and will appear regularly with the Players. Let us hope so, because this is an outstanding performance, showing excellent comic timing and playing well off his fellow-actors. The part could have been written for John Cleese, and Kevin is not afraid to use his gangling height and mobile face to reinforce the comparison. His stiff-necked incomprehension of the chaos going on around him heightens the comedy.
Mar Godfrey has previously directed only two short plays in one of Broadstone’s Plays ’n’ Chips evenings, so this is a promising first effort at a full-length production. There is a tendency, especially in the first act, for two conversing characters to get stuck downstage left and downstage right, but to an extent, that is the nature of the play. Certainly the first-night audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves, to judge by their reaction. You can see why from 17 to 20 May at 7.45, with a Saturday matinée at 2.30.