And if the Swan Theatre company is known for its drama and innovative programming, the most regular “guest users”, Civic Players, is usually praised for amazingly detailed sets and light comedy.
Civic’s latest offering is Neil Simon’s Rumours, and it is the best thing the company has done by a country mile. It’s a clever farce, requiring PERFECT timing – and that’s no easy demand for even experienced professionals. So it is all the more astounding that the nine members of Shirley Bayliss’s cast nailed it flawlessly, delivering quick-fire lines with a jaw-dropping spontaneity as the labyrinthine plot unfurled.
Briefly, it’s set at a party to celebrate a tenth wedding anniversary, but neither the host nor hostess is in sight. The curtain opens as Ken and Chris, married barristers, are in a state of desperation. They arrived a few minutes earlier, to hear a gunshot and then to find the host, Charlie, with a gun in his hand and his head bleeding. Chris has already phoned the doctor, but as Charlie is a government minister, they are keen to keep the police – and the press – in the dark.
Gradually the rest of the guests appear. First here are Claire and Len, traumatised from a car accident on the way which has left their new BMW battered and Len with whiplash.
By the time Chris and Ken have told each of the guests a slightly different version of the story they have concocted, a policeman arrives, and then it gets REALLY complicated.
Ed Butcher’s set is elegant and convincing, and the director has used every chance to exploit its comic potential.
Andy Meadows and Vicky Walters (a Civic newcomer) set this hilarious story rolling with great skill and contrast, picked up by Rich Walters and Amanda Parry. Rich’s monologue for the policeman is a tour-de force rightly applauded by the audience. And Amanda is the mistress of the throwaway line,.
Pauline Withers and Colin Francis make the most of their peculiar moments, and Adrian Harding is a policeman with a sense of humour and a heart of gold, even if his nose for a tall story is a little blocked.
This was a hugely entertaining night at the theatre, and knocked several professional farces I have recently seen into a cocked hat with a flamboyant plume. Thanks.
Photographs by Pauline Dagnall