The wonderfully named 'Worcester College Buskins St John’s Mummers Cameron Mackintosh Martin Esslen Society' is staging the witty farce Black Comedy – an ambitious play, and it works well.
Black Comedy is from the pen of Peter Shaffer, who also wrote the acclaimed plays 'The Royal Hunt of the Sun', 'Equus' and 'Amadeus'. It was first performed in the mid-sixties (there are charming references to the ‘air terminal’ – which today we would call ‘the airport’ – and pubs that close at 10 o’clock) and the styling of the play captures the era nicely.
Struggling artist Brindsley Miller and his fiancée Carol are having a party with the aim of impressing Carol’s bombastic father, Colonel Melkett, and millionaire Georg Bamberger, who may buy some of Brindsley’s sculptures. They have borrowed (without permission) the furniture and effects of a neighbour, the camp and fussy Harold Gorringe, to make the flat more presentable.
Before the guests arrive the main fuse blows, plunging the flat into darkness; only we, the audience, can see what is happening. This brings an elderly spinster neighbour, Miss Furnival, to their door. She is followed by the Colonel; Harold Gorringe, unexpectedly returning early from a weekend away; Brindsley’s true love, the caustic and wilful Clea; and the man from the Electricity Board who, having a German accent, is easily mistaken for their would-be benefactor, Bamberger.
Brindsley must return Harold’s furniture before the lights are restored, and keep Carol and the other guests in the dark about Clea’s arrival, whilst making a good impression on the Colonel. The result, as you might expect, is chaotic, disastrous – and very funny.
It can’t be easy to stumble around the stage as if it is really pitch dark and the cast achieve the illusion very well. Indeed, there are so many mini set-pieces by the individuals that it is sometimes difficult to know where to look in order not to miss an amusing piece of furniture-groping, people-bumping and near-missing.
The excellent script paints each character as a stereotype – virtually a caricature – and the players rise to the occasion. In fact, if I were to criticise at all, it is in parts rather Basil Fawlty-esque, but that is perhaps John Cleese’s fault for having appropriated over-the-top behaviour and making it his own.
I’m sure the gentlemen of the cast will excuse me if I give the highest praise to the ladies, although I must say that Ian Runacres is excellent as Harold. Jodie Adams makes a marvellous empty-headed deb out of Carol (even delivering a line like ‘Sexypoos’ with a straight face); Rosie Leach (stepping in at the last minute) plays Miss Furnival beautifully in the style of Joyce Grenfell descending into an alcoholic stupor; and Susie Herbert, who plays Clea, is exceptionally good. Try and catch it before it ends – it’s well worth seeing.
Mike Smith (Unverified), 07/03/06
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