Association of Community Theatre
Show Reviews October 2017
MOVE OVER MRS MARKHAM
by Ray Cooney & John Chapman
Directed by Brian Seymour
Spicy, saucy and occasionally somewhat silly, this farce certainly delighted a full-house first night performance in the lovely surroundings of PADOS Studio Theatre.
Farce, done right, is probably one of the hardest comic disciplines to perform, but there were no such problems here. A fault of the script meant that the first act was rather too wordy, with the impending mayhem being semaphored several times but no matter, the cast coped with it admirably. Maybe there was just a little too much projection in the first act for such a small venue, but better than the opposite.
Dialogue has to be snappy and delivered at breakneck speed for the full effect to take place and my, was it fast? All credit to this superb cast for coping with the cross-purpose dialogue. It only needs one person to go wrong and the whole scenario can collapse like a deck of cards. No problem here as each actor was in full command of his or her dialogue.
Setting the scene for the mayhem that was to follow, Lisa Garrish had the pivotal role of Joanna Markham. Linda threw herself into the role and coped well with every situation as if to the manor born. Rob Livesey, as the androgynous Alistair Spenlow was every inch the stereotypical theatrical interior designer, in looks and mannerisms, even though his character's taste in design was somewhat bizarre. When describing what cushions would be right for the studio it caused caused a collective ugh! I loved the odd Kenneth Williams impression, too, and immediately thought, “Ooh, Matron”.
Debbie Loofe played Sylvie, the foreign au-pair with just the right amount of bewilderment, first coping with strange set-up in this household. Debbie also played the GPO girl later in the second act, too and pulled off an incredible change in character, so much so that one had to check the programme to realise that Sylvie and Miss Wilkinson were being played by the same person. Well done, Debbie.
Setting up what was to prove to be a strange evening was Helen Marland, playing Linda Lodge, wife of the Joanna's husband's business partner, Henry. Flamboyant, not taking no for an answer, cajoling her way into allowing Joanna's flat to be used as a temporary love nest for her affair with Walter, Helen gave the character a thoroughly believable life of its own.
Philip Markham was played by Ian Taylor He brought to the role a wealth of experience and, seemingly, was the only one to be cuckolded. As a children's book publisher he needed to be in command of every situation but somehow, everything turned out for him to be not as it seemed.
We were very much on his side as events unfolded, but his scene with Alistair was one of the funniest I have seen for a long time. He and Rob never went too far: the the comedy and the timing were excellent.
His business partner, Henry Lodge, played by David Livesey, was also not quite as upright as he first seemed. He too was trying to get his partner's flat for the evening for an extra-marital affair, having made a date with Miss Wilkinson, a girl he had only ever spoken to on the telephone.
Urbane, persuasive,occasionally somewhat louche, David gave a very well tuned performance.
It was throughout the first act that events were set in place for act two. To Sylvie it's the "goose" that she learned from Alistair, but to Philip, Joanna Markham's husband, it's "a variety of geese," and fifteen years of marriage is just about undone along with everything else.
Act two was certainly fast and furious with lots of going in and out of different doors in true Whitehall farce tradition with dropped trousers, rumpy pumpy that never quite happens and total bewilderment by the two cast members we were yet to meet.
With character after character getting more and more flustered with each misunderstanding in cross-purpose dialogue, a brief calm entered in the form of Olive Harriet Smyth, the very successful children's author of the Bow-Wow series of books. Dianne Manship was superb at giving us a character who created her own form of mayhem with her lines about a handyman who does and a gardener who might do. Beautifully understated, Dianne became the character around whom a new set of problems revolved.
Finally we meet Walter Pangbourne, the lover who had come to meet with Linda for an evening of passion. What a gem of a cameo role this is and it was so beautifully played by Stephen Moss, underplayed, with calm bewilderment and as a slightly tipsy would-be lover, was perfect.
Everything from Philip's business deals with Bow Wow Books and Alistair's near escape from Joanna's chiding seduction to the naked G.P.O. girl (Miss Wilkinson) and the spectre of scandal was hilarious. A lot of bed-hopping occurred as Sylvie wound up taking Alistair on "walkies" and the amazing Mrs. Markham got her man, her husband!
The playing area in the studio theatre is not very big and to have effectively four rooms in evidence was a masterpiece of design. It was very obvious that the living room was in the process of being decorated. I think I might have broken up the main wall by having two panels but as always, time and resources are at a premium. Stage left was the bedroom with its louvred entry door and far SL the entrance to the bathroom. Up stage right was entrance to the front door and kitchen, On the back were two doors, one leading to the storage and cloakroom where all the drinks were kept and the door to the study.
I do think there should have been a light in the study as it appeared that all characters who went in to the study were going into a dark room. Just a minor quibble.
Furniture was kept to a necessary minimum with a two seater beige leather settee and matching armchair centre and a practical desk, telephone and intercom downstage right. In the bedroom was a oval bed and bedside table with a curtained, practical window upstage left.
Properties were sufficient and costumes were suitable for the characters.
With eight in the cast, the director never once made events overcrowded and his guiding hand on directing this very, very funny play was very much in evidence to me. I am sure that somewhere along the line, for a first night there might have been slight mishaps, but we, as an audience never noticed any if, indeed, they had occurred.
Thank you, PADOS, for your warm hospitality and a very, very entertaining evening. And congratulations to the society for its 100 year anniversary.