IF there is one thing that we can probably all agree on at present, it is that we need to laugh. So huge thanks to the ever-inventive New Old Friends for their latest show, a delicious send-up of the classic Hollywood golden era film noir.
You’ve got the hardbitten private eye, the ditsy scared blonde, the power-crazy Mr Big and the wise-cracking assistants, secretaries and support staff, who fulfill the same role as the sassy servants in Shakespeare and his contemporaries. You even get a chorus of dancing girls (no spoilers, but this is one of the biggest laughs of the night).
Like the best spoofs, Crimes, Camera, Action knows its genre inside-out and plays it seriously. The voice-overs have just the right world-weary cynicism. The doomed starlet is beautiful, vain and hysterical. The villains are really villainous. The clowns are hilarious.
The action opens on our hero, private eye Stan Shakespeare, hanging precariously over a building that we can guess is more than a few storeys high. Then we spool back to the day the dizzy blonde Leigh Lakeworth came to Shakespeare’s office to voice her fears. There is more spooling back later on, and speeding forward, and slowing backwards and .. . you get the picture. It’s classic early movie style and brilliantly executed.
Shakespeare doesn’t like movies and he doesn’t like movie stars and he definitely doesn’t like the people who produce movies. He wants nothing to do with Miss Lakeworth. But the very next day he reads in his Hollywood newspaper that Leigh Lakeworth is dead. His detective antennae are soon twitching.
The action unfolds over the course of two helter-skelter, laugh-out-loud acts, with cowboys, robots, dancing girls, an English aristo who gets his words in a twist, an accountant who does a number on everyone and a bed-ridden old producer who still packs a mean pistol.
A cast of four plays countless parts – or to be more precise, Feargus Woods Dunlop (who also wrote the show) plays the private eye, and Mark Collier, Kirsty Cox and Heather Westwell play everyone else. The style and the format will be familiar to New Old Friends fans. Only the American accent is different. The company has made its name, with plays most of which have come to Bath Theatre Royal, spoofing the stiff upper lip and upper class murders and comedies of Agatha Christie, and Noel Coward. This is their first venture across the pond.
It was only the second night of the show, and it will probably tighten up a bit when the national tour gets under way next year – but this was a good start, and a welcome opportunity to laugh a lot and admire a talented company displaying an amazing array of physical and acting skills.
Cheers! Now where did I hide that bottle of bourbon?
Pictured: Feargus Woods Dunlop as Stan Shakespeare, poised precariously; and the trio of dumb heavies (Heather Westwell, Kirsty Cox and Mark Collier; Photographs by Pamela Raith Photography