The theatre itself is a gem, with just ten rows of about 20 seats, each with a good view of the stage, the company strives for perfection, and they usually come very close to it. I have even seen plays I do not much like, and would not choose to see, given the attention of this company and made entertaining. From traditional pieces to modern, spanning the centuries from Shakespeare to the present day, any work is delivered at the best possible level.
Ray Cooney is a master of farce, having performed with Brian Rix’s company in the Whitehall farces of the 50s and 60s, and in the early 1980s, having founded and presiding over the Theatre of Comedy, he wrote a string of farces, starring comedy greats of the day such as Richard Briers, Bernard Cribbins, Ernie Wise, Terry Scott, Donald Sinden and countless stars of the large and small screen, starting with Run For Your Wife, which still holds the record for the longest running comedy in the West End, and including Out of Order, directed at The Swan by tonight’s director June Markham in 2010, and this evening’s Funny Money.
Every single actor in the company played their role with complete honesty, their characters completely believing their situation, and in the way of farce, digging themselves deeper into a seemingly impossible position. The pace started fast, and got faster, as did the volume from one of the policeman as he became more and more frustrated, and there was plenty of door-slamming, rushing in and out of rooms, up and down stairs, and some wonderful horseplay, all cleverly choreographed to maximum effect.
As the main protagonist Henry, Roger Mumford has a great line in physical comedy, with a very believable face, so that we see him desperately searching his mind to come up with the answer to the next complicated situation, and working with highly experienced actors such as Sarah Ambrose, who was so memorable as Shirley Valentine at the Swan, as his gradually more and more drunk wife Jean, a superb team is formed. Add to this the incredibly versatile actor and director Robert Graydon, with a wonderfully camp Northern accent in this play, and Mary Buckle, as dinner guests Vic and Betty Johnson, and the intrigue develops further as they all have to ascertain who they are supposed to be, and which story they are meant to be sticking to, given that there are two policemen to answer to, from two different London boroughs, reminiscent of the aforementioned Run For Your Wife. The four main characters maintained their roles perfectly, especially in the set pieces on chair and sofa, Graydon as Vic, in particular with a series of “hang on” repeated an increasing number of times, showed a developing frustration that eventually gave way to complete acceptance, and the hidden adventurous sexuality of Betty was revealed with a great subtlety by Buckle.
The two policemen, one bent the other honest, are played with great accuracy by Shaun Driver and Pete Fernandez, Chris White, as cab driver Bill also makes the most of his part without overdoing anything, and even the tiny part of passer-by is well portrayed by Pete Lemmy.
This was over two hours of riotous fun, as we see the characters sink deeper and deeper into the hole they are digging, and thank heavens one of them has a ladder to bring them back to the surface for that well-earned and fully justifed ovation. Well done to director, cast, and crew at the Swan, again! It’s on until Saturday, if you can get a ticket.