In the dying days of the second world war, See How They Run, a farce by Philip King, opened amid the ruins of London. The audience rolled in the aisles with laughter and refused to leave the theatre as bombs began to fall. Now, in the second decade of the second millennium, farce is back with revivals of classics in New York and London. Here at the Aquarius, See How They Run has audiences rolling in the aisles again.
The play opens in the living room of a vicarage. Penelope Toop (played beautifully by Sarah Mennell), is a former actress and the delightful new wife of the vicar, Lionel Toop (played with meek indignation by Ivan Sherry). She is trying to maintain her modern ways in a stodgy rural community. When her former male lead in Private Lives arrives on leave for a quick evening visit, the mayhem begins. Squeezing out fun where fun is not valued is the fulcrum of this wacky farce. Penelope’s missteps become our fun as she inadvertently whacks a village scold unconscious and hides her in a cupboard. For reasons that seem reasonable, she dresses Corporal Clive Winton, her actor friend (played handsomely and hilariously by Darren Keay) in one of her husband’s suits and dog collars, and before we know it, moonlight madness begins. As various churchmen and a runaway prisoner, disguised as a vicar, enter the scene, trousers are lost, doors are slammed and circular chase scenes begin. This is a stellar cast. With expert direction by Marcia Kash, they nail the crucial, split second timing that guarantees hilarity.
Karen Wood is a scream as the man-crazy Ida. Her comedy gets broader, scene by scene, till she’s mimicking the identity of a body in the cupboard like a lunatic playing charades. Andrea Risk, the morally outraged Miss Skillon, displays, with great flair, various degrees of awareness and inebriation. She manoeuvres her bosom like the prow of a ship while turning her legs to spaghetti. In the manner of classic British farce, she keels forward at one point, allowing her ‘ prow’ to fall straight into the hands of Humphrey, a visiting reverend with the speech impediment of a child. This delightful character, played by Anthony Bekenn, has a Mr. Bean moment when he’s pretending to drink brandy. All his fuss and fiddling with the non existent snifter, to please his befuddled hostess, is divine.
It’s no surprise that the audience for this show is, by and large, over fifty, a group that’s been shaken by bubble economies and shifts in global power. If farce is popular in uncertain times, the loony characters in See How They Run, who jump through hoops that don’t exist and take on identities that aren’t their own, have resonance today. Our deep belly laughs get us in on the fun as the genre always happily intended. V
SEE HOW THEY RUN
Until Oct. 6
@ Theatre Aquarius.
190 King William St., Hamilton.
tix: (905) 522–7529