Caught on the Hop- Sutton Arts Theatre

COTH

Written by Derek Benfield, and first performed in 1977, Caught on the Hop is a romantic farce as popularised by Brian Rix. Its success is wholly dependent upon the energy and brio of the characterisation. Fortunately Sutton Arts were well up to the challenge with Ian Cornock and Alison Daly co-directing, the latter in addition to her acting duties. The eight parts, four male and four female, make it ideal for amateur productions, and was performed as a contemporary piece, eschewing the need for dubious seventies fashion.

Stage Director John Islip and his team excelled with a convincing single lounge set offering the obligatory multiple doorways which every farce requires. A complimentary mood soundtrack pleased.

What makes this production such a delight is the casting. The plot frequently not only requires a suspension of disbelief, it requires the abandonment of it. It is the actors who must convince and carry the show. The central pairing is Phil ( Gary Pritchard), who has the unfortunate habit of falling in love with girls on buses, and his best friend George ( Rod Blissett), whose job it is to try to extricate him from his scrapes. Rod Blissett has the best part in the play, and makes the very most of it, as he mixes horrified bemusement with his friends’ actions, with the need for frantic action to try to save him. The pivotal part, he excels and delights. Gary Pritchard has to develop being aghast, very aghast, and very very aghast, as events spiral out of control around him, and does so well. He plays Phil as an unlikely romeo, a man always one step behind .

The central female pairing is Julie (Michelle Dawes), Phils’ latest love interest, and Maggie ( Alison Daly), Phils’ long suffering wife , who can both carry killer heels in some style. Michelle is perfect as Phils’ young, gullible, sexy squeeze, Alison is equally strong as the older, and smarter than she lets on, long suffering wife.

Creditably, a very talented supporting cast are happy to allow the central characters to shine. Dan Payne is amusing as Julie’s fireman father, always ready to deal with any hint of fire , including an evening sunset. Lovers Alan (Dexter Whitehead) and Greta ( Suzy Donnelly) confuse the plot, but entertain the audience. The scene stealer is veteran Mavis Atkinson as Mrs Pufffet. She makes every line, every glance, count, in a comic master class. Her entrance following the kitchen conflagration brought the house down, as did her exit line, reflecting on her day, “ It started with a bang up the backside and ended with a bang up the oven”.

Farce can descend into stupidity unless executed well, and there was never a moment when the cast allowed the pace to slacken, or the laughter to stop. The best line of the night, in excuse of marital infidelity, was; “ when you are selling a car you don’t stop driving it when you put an ad in the paper “. Running until 28th June, this show is the perfect summer evening out for wholesome fun and laughs.

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