Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rookery Nook by Ben Travers, Menier Chocolate Factory, 21-Apr-2009 – Directed by Terry Johnson

I wanted to start this with a paragraph about how, with the Aldwych Farces, the actors aren't playing characters so much as doing the Ralph Lynn part (monocled silly-ass), the Tom Walls part (smooth lothario), the Robertson Hare part (henpecked husband or servant) or even the Mary Brough part (cockney battle-axe or mother-in-law). While it is at least partly true a little checking suggests that Rookery Nook was too early an Aldwych Farce for the roles to be set in stone and that Travers re-wrote the plays late in his life to concentrate on character more than slapstick.
All the same, I think the chemistry between the three main male characters works best when it is relaxed and familiar and I'm not sure that's what happened here. I think it was primarily that that Neil Stuke's Gerald Popkiss (the Lynn part) and Edward Baker-Duly's Clive Popkiss (the Walls part) didn't gel completely as a double act. They came close but I didn't think they were, as I said, relaxed and familiar with each other as I think they needed to be. For some reason I needed Gerald Popkiss to come across as completely non-threatening and innocent when the beautiful young girl (or rather gell) in pyjamas, Rhoda Marley, seeks refuge in the house, Rookery Nook where he is staying. While he wasn't threatening I didn't think Neil Stuke was quite the pleasant silly-ass that I thought was required.
I've done the usual whining about petty things and could go further with the pacing – the first act seemed to have been over-extended with long silences and business simply in order to make the interval after it happen closer to half-way through the night. However there were plenty of laughs in this production and they seemed to be in the right places – Terry Johnson is not one of those directors, who are afraid of audience laughter or can't find the jokes and who hide behind the “we are looking for the dark-side of the play” excuse. Perhaps though, the jokes didn't get quite the size of laugh they could have. People had fun but I had the sense that it could have been a deal funnier.
I have to be a little cautious, given the director and actors (some like Sarah Woodward, quite capable of comic genius – if underused here) there is potential for great things and I suspect it was just an off-night where things didn't come together.



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