14 August 2023
The art of comedy is, at its very basic level, to make us laugh. Farce adds further elements to the mix; freneticism being an example. British farceur, Ray Cooney, throws everything he has at his 1983 play ‘Run For Your Wife’ and the results leave the audience caught up in the most wonderful hysterics.
Seemingly borrowing some of the plotlines from Marc Camoletti’s ‘Boeing Boeing’, Cooney’s story of a London cab driver, John Smith, trying to keep his double marriage a secret by careful planning is laden with mistaken identities, wrongful assumptions and innuendo. Times have changed as has the nature of comedy and what might have been acceptable in the early 80’s does not always meet with the same reception today; credit to director Jonathan Hunt for excising or adapting the offending text whilst keeping the laughs.
The very opening of the show lays out the story in the most perfect fashion as the two wives of John Smith contact their local police force reporting him missing; he has been assaulted and ended up in hospital – the long tale begins to unfold.
A good farce needs a cast up to the task – it is no mean feat to pull off this genre of theatre, it is notoriously prone with problems. With just the regular 5 days rehearsal, Hunt and his cast have more than achieved their aim.
The role of John Smith is unremitting; he is barely off stage and drives much of the story; making his debut at the Sidmouth Play Festival, Tom Mann is perfect in the part; displaying all the frustration, alarm and quick thinking along with a cheeky chappy chirpiness which is endearing making up (to a certain extent) for his ridiculous behaviour. A strong, confident and skilful performance. Heather Wilkins rages wonderfully and Molly Stewart (also new to the Festival) is beautifully icy cool as the wronged wives – a cracking duo! Matthew Hartley is the neighbour Stanley Gardner, who, in trying to help the beleaguered Smith, creates even more havoc out of the chaos; Hartley is physically and facially perfect for farce and is in his element here. Investigating the ‘disappearance’ of Smith is Jeremy Todd as DS Porterhouse from Streatham and Alfie French as DS Troughton from Wimbledon. Todd masterfully plays it straight and, as such, garners a multitude of laughs with expressions of bemusement and complete misinterpretation of events. French makes a tremendous impression on his debut at Sidmouth as the sharp suited, self-confident detective with a range of facial expressions which are a gift for an actor – impressive stuff. And whirling on stage in a flurry of arm-waving and campery, Sam McInnerny almost steals the show with a cameo of lush proportions which brings the house down.
No praise is enough though for the work of the director who knows just how far to push things before they fail to become funny; Jonathan Hunt steers the ship so expertly and gives the play so much momentum that, by the time the height of the madness is taking place, the audience is falling around all over the place. Hunt is a very talented actor and his handling of the material here as director is faultless.
Andrew Beckett has previous in designing sets which are two locations amalgamated into one and this stylish offering is spot-on, as ever.
The programme sets the play in ‘the present’ – always slightly dangerous – it might have been ‘the present’ in 1982, but without a mobile phone in sight it cannot be the case. A small niggle.
With a very full audience, many on their feet at the end, this is a hugely entertaining and very funny play which will gather momentum throughout it’s week and deserves the very favourable response it received on opening night.
The play runs until 19 August and tickets are available at www.manorpavilion.com. Next week is the thriller, ‘Not Dead Enough’ by Peter James which runs from 21 until 26 August.
Cast & Creatives
Mary Smith – Heather Wilkins
Barbara Smith – Molly Stewart
John Smith – Tom Mann
Detective Troughton – Alfie French
Stanley Gardner – Matthew Hartley
Reporter/Bobby Franklin – Sam McInnerny
Detective Porterhouse – Jeremy Todd
Writer – Ray Cooney
Director – Jonathan Hunt
Design – Andrew Beckett
Lighting & Sound Operation & Design – Stage Tech Services
Costume Supervisor – Jan Huckle & Phoebe Fleetham
Set Builders – Henry Hayward, James Prendergast
Set Assistant – Dominic McChesney
Deputy Stage Manager – Daniel Saint
Photo Credit – Isla Rose
Artistic Director – Paul Taylor-Mills
Season Associate Producer – Andrew Beckett