Not flawless but still 'great fun'
Now then, if you are ever considering a house-swap holiday, just do your research properly '“ or you may book yourself the nightmare vacation which is the basis for new comedy Swap.
Talking Scarlet returns, and once again Eastbourne hosts a UK premiere, with a lengthy tour ahead, and first-night hiccups were very few. The main characters were comfortable in their skins, and laughter rippled regularly across the auditorium. As in all farce, the plot lurches from far-fetched to downright ridiculous, but nobody minds too much.
Writer and director Ian Ogilvy, present for Monday night’s opener, was happy with what he saw. “We have had a quite short and frantic rehearsal run-up, but the show is bedding in well and we will quickly tighten up here and there ahead of the tour.” Best known as Simon Templar in the hugely successful TV series Return of the Saint, Ian now lives in Los Angeles but is also in the UK for next month’s launch of his memoirs, Once a Saint.
Good farce lays waste to most of the four-square dramatic conventions. The protagonists are unashamedly clichéd, misunderstandings cause chaos, surprises and coincidences are contrived at will, and the plots veer off in fresh and impossible directions every few minutes. Swap has all these qualities, although, in the second half especially, really fine farce demands a smarter pace.
Brian and Susan – respectively detail-obsessed and world-weary – are staid funeral directors whose house-swap has taken them from Wimbledon to Marbella, where they unwittingly arrive at the villa (lovingly re-created by designer Andy Newell) of a dangerous gangster. There is a corpse in the closet, and within minutes the body count is rising alarmingly – and, as Susan pricelessly remarks, “we haven’t even unpacked yet”!
David Callister and Freya Copeland handle the two roles convincingly, and Patric Kearns adds cracking humour as the brother-in-law who has tagged along. But the stand-out acting performance comes from Kim Tiddy. Her character is gangster’s moll Coral, but it could have been Courtnee or Chardonnay, for she is the absolute essence of Essex Girl, with gold bangles and a heart of gold, and the most lavish hair extensions this side of Romford. Kim’s delivery is pin-sharp and deliciously funny.
Kim also has a current role in Hollyoaks, but like many working actors her biography is not all glamour: it includes setting up a cleaning company when acting work was short, and playing basketball for England!
The other three actors, Michael Kirk, Davies Palmer and Alan Mehdizadeh, cover half-a-dozen other roles, most of them gangsters – and one or two of them might just have died twice by the time we reach the final – genuinely dramatic – climax. But the other reservation with this play is actually that the nasty guys are not nasty enough. Ruthless criminals, even in farces, really shouldn’t be quite so cuddly and endearing.
Don’t expect great momentous drama, but enter into the spirit and you will thoroughly enjoy Swap. Not flawless, but great fun. By Kevin Anderson.