Sunday, 6 May 2018

REVIEW: Move over Mrs Markham at the Mill at Sonning

The Mill at Sonning has been undergoing an overdue refurbishment and modernisation of its bar and restaurant of this dinner theatre venue which has been producing more adventurous shows including a recent excellent My Fair Lady. It is therefore a little odd that it should reopen with this incredibly dated farce from the seventies . It's characters and language are firmly rooted in that time before political correctness and changing attitudes altered for ever the acceptable bounds of comedy. Yet the original coauthor and director of this production, Ray Conney, now in his eighties, gets his cast to whole heartedly embrace the seventies language and style and transports us back to 1970. What is more the audience is lapping it up by the time the riotous confusion builds to its conclusion.

The set is the Markham's one bedroom 1st floor apartment which is being redecorated in garish seventies styles and colours by Alistair Spenlow and as required for farce features multiple doors to the bedroom, bathroom, bar, study, au pairs room and the stairs to the publishers offices below as well as a window to the road outside. After the slow first half sets up the different relationships and planned liaisons, the second half explodes into a manic frantic covering up of identities with at different times each door hiding a character. It is brilliantly timed farce that provides plenty of opportunities for startled surprise, lecherous grins and confused looks. 

At the centre of the mayhem are Mr and Mrs Markham played by Mark Curry and Finty Williams respectively who are forced with an increasingly desperate air to keep the plot together. As in all farce they play it as if it all makes sense with great comic timing. Their efforts are thwarted by Andrew Hall as his business partner Henry Lodge and Delme Thomas as the effeminate lothario Spenlow both of whom are seeking to use the flat to bed young attractive willing women played by Rebecca Witherington and Una Byrne. To add to the chaos Lodge's wife played by Judy Buxton is trying to start an affair with nervous Walter (Jeffery Holland) in the same flat.

The play reaches its hilarious farcical climax when Olive Harriet Smythe, played by Elizabeth Elvin arrives seeking a publisher with good morals for her children's books about a dog called BowWow and everyone tries to cover up the various goings-on to win the contract. She gets the biggest laugh with her reaction to being "goosed" by Mr Markham who finally loses the plot!

Having seen this play when it was first staged, this revival reminds us how far comedy has changed over the last forty five years but also that with great comic timing and energetic performances even the classic sex comedy can still ring out the laughs. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★
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