Review by Roger Paine: See How They Run, Devonshire Park Theatre
THE ORIGINAL Theatre Company has again chosen Eastbourne to premiere its latest production before embarking on a national tour.
Local theatregoers and visitors should also, on this occasion, feel quadruply blessed as the classic farce includes four vicars!
Written by Philip King in the darkest days of World War II, the action takes place in the panelled entrance hall of the vicarage in Merton-Cum-Middlewick.
The preposterous plot, with every nuance deftly teased out by director Chris Harper, features clueless clerics, a baffled bishop, an escaped German POW, a bicycling spinster and a cheeky Cockney maid.
Bona fide village vicar, Reverend Lionel Toop (Alastair Whatley), and his wife Penelope (Siobhan O’Kelly), a former actress, are initially clinking teacups with parish do-gooder Miss Skillon (Lucy Speed) until she hits the cooking sherry, and which she continues to do with increasing regularity before each time collapsing into a rubber-legged, bloomer-clad heap.
Flirty housemaid Ida (Rachel Donovan), whose comic sequence wielding two hot-water-bottles is a gem, then finds the vicar’s wife in a no-holds-barred clinch on the floor with her former thespian chum Clive Winton (David Partridge), now a Lance-Corporal in the Army stationed locally.
Arthur Bostrom, as the Bishop of Lax and Penelope’s uncle, epitomises purple pomposity until he lands in the garden pond in his pyjamas. Visiting vicar, Reverend Arthur Humphrey (Leo Atkin), understandably bemused, feels he has arrived in a madhouse and Sergeant Towers (Sebastian Abineri), in charge of searching for the escaped Nazi (Rhys King), loses his parade ground authority when ordered, in a memorable line “Arrest most of these vicars!”, by the bishop.
Without appearing dated, perhaps surprisingly, this performance by a cast whose timing and exuberance never flags ticks every box in the mistaken identity cupboard.
It remains as quintessentially British as steak-and-kidney pudding, wet Bank Holidays and the village fête.