“Run for your wife”, by Ray Cooney, is one of the most successful stage farces of modern times, guaranteed to have an audience, and so it proved at a packed Sutton Arts Theatre on Friday night. First performed in 1983, producer Barrie Atchison presents it in contemporary style, rather than period piece. So leg warmers are out, and Charles and Camilla are in.
The script is not without its challenges for a modern production. The adult content is relatively tame, but attitudes to homosexuality, which are key to much of the humour, are very different now to thirty years ago. Back then, the memory of Jeremy Thorpe’s public ruination by homosexual allegations was fresh, now, no government front bench can be without gender, sexual and ethnic diversity. Thus the casual prejudices of the past no longer have the same comic value. The failure of last year’s film version highlights the dangers, but under the skilful direction of Atchison the carefully crafted comedy is polished and vibrant.
The tale is of London cab driver John Smith, with two wives, two lives, and a very precise schedule for juggling them both. He has one wife at home in Streatham, and another at home in Wimbledon, with occupants of the flat upstairs at both locations. So the stage is set.
Trouble brews when Smith is attacked, ending up in hospital. Both of his addresses surface, causing both the Streatham and Wimbledon police to investigate. Having upset his schedule, Smith becomes hopelessly entangled in his attempts with his unemployed neighbour upstairs in Wimbledon, to explain himself to his wives, two suspicious police officers, and a gay couple upstairs in Streatham to confuse matters.
The split single set works well offering a comedic potential which is fully realised. Richard Cogzel plays bigamist John Smith as a confused, bemused, wide-eyed observer of his own downfall, powerless to prevent events conspiring as his increasingly desperate explanations founder. His two wives are a nice contrast. Rachel Duncan plays Mary, whose solution to most things is in the kitchen, Lin Tran plays Barbera , whose solution to most things is in the bedroom. The former favours sensible non-matching underwear, the latter sports stockings, suspenders and vertiginous red high heels. Duncan’s quiet hysteria is well pitched and amusing, Tran’s sassy sex appeal is wholly convincing. Neighbour and unwitting accomplice Stanley Gardener is well handled by Dave Douglas as he is transformed from louche layabout to reluctant gay consort. Trying to make sense of the confusion are two detectives who offer the best performances of the night. Dan Payne’s bluff and incredulous DS Troughton is a delight, Stuart Goodwin’s well intentioned, but not so worldly wise DS Porterhouse, is the perfect foil. Richard Hamm has the difficult task of playing Bobby Franklin, the gay neighbour. Steeped in caricature drafted in another era. Hamm chooses a Louis Spence style persona whose rough edges are smoothed by the energy and brio of his performance.
Farces require plenty of movement, lots of doors opening and closing, and plenty of physical comedy. Atchison’s production delivers this in some style. Although the first half of the night took a little while to warm up, by the end, the laughter was constant, clothes were off and a brilliantly handled confessional finale with all protagonists on stage was a satisfying end to a very enjoyable night. “Run for your wife” continues until Saturday 15th February.