The Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh – until 20 August 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Excellent comic timing is a feature of Arkle’s extremely enjoyable Black Comedy at the Royal Scots Club.
Peter Shaffer’s farce has a conventional story about a sculptor who wants to impress a rich collector and his fiancee’s father while avoiding his ex-girlfriend and an angry neighbour. What sets it apart is its ingenious twist in staging.
Most of the play takes place in the dark, which is signalled by having the stage lit, while moments when the characters can see are correspondingly dark for the audience. When a match is struck, for example, the stage lights dim accordingly.
This presents huge challenges for the cast and director Judith Walker, which are overcome with great skill and humour. Split-second timing is needed, and the audience must firmly believe that the characters who are groping around the stage cannot see.
This works very well. Central to the production is Ian Dunnett as sculptor Brindsley. Resembling Harry Potter turned nasty, he excels at the wordless physical comedy necessary when shifting furniture while pretending he has left the room. Jana Doughty’s airheaded débutante Carol is a desperately outdated character, but played with panache and humour.
Fastidious neighbour Harold is another characterisation you would hope would not be written today, even ironically, but is also discharged with excellent comic timing by Paul Beeson. There is more than a hint of Joyce Grenfell in Angela Harkness Robertson’s Miss Furnivall, with her reactions after being given alcohol instead of bitter lemon particularly memorable.
Pat Hymers splutters and rages in great style as Carol’s army officer father, while Jenny Tamplin’s vengeful glee as Brindsley’s discarded girlfriend Clea is very well judged. Chris Pearson’s Schuppanzigh, the electrician mistaken for the reclusive collector, is a nicely underplayed contrast to the madness around him – madness only enhanced by Graham Bell’s pleasingly ludicrous cameo.
It is as an ensemble that the cast most impress. The pace of the action is built expertly, with one comic set piece after another falling beautifully, leading to a highly effective whole.
Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes
The Royal Scots Club (Venue 241), 29-31 Abercromby Place, EH3 6QE
Monday 15 – Saturday 20 August 2016
Daily at 6.15 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/black-comedy
Company website: http://www.arkletheatre.co.uk
Arkle Facebook page: Arkle-Theatre-Company-90472754009