Mill Theatre, Sonning – until 2 June 2018
You won’t find a finer farce playwright than Ray Cooney, in my humble opinion, and this production of Move Over Mrs Markham (which he co-wrote with John Chapman and has directed himself) is a perfect of example of why this genre of playwriting has stood the test of time. It’s no mean feat to pull off the perfect farce, however here we have a cast de force who have embraced the direction from their ‘maestro’ and they’ve really done him proud too.
The story has been set in the 1970s and revolves around the Markhams and the Lodges – Lodge and Markham is a publishing firm run by Henry Lodge (Andrew Hall) and Phillip Markham (Mark Curry). The action is set in the static environment of the Markhams’ London flat which is in the process of being refurbished by the wildly flamboyant Alistair Spenlow (Delme Thomas).
It’s easy to see why Spenlow’s sexuality is questionable. However, his mutual goosing with au pair Sylvie (Una Byrne) seems to suggest he’s heterosexual through and through. While Spenlow and Sylvie are plotting an evening of slap, tickle and goosing – Henry’s wife, Linda (Judy Buxton) who is aware of her husband’s constant philandering, has been planning some philandering herself. She’s met a man at a Tapestry class called Walter Pangbourne (Jeffrey Holland), so Linda is keen to get between the sheets with her new love-letter-writing beau. After she’s had a cup of tea that is, she can’t do anything until she’s had a cup of tea. The sheets that she has in mind belong to the Markhams, so Phillip’s wife Jo (Finty Williams) is in the unlucky position of helping her friend out.
Throw into the mix that Henry has yet another girl on the go, whom he plans to bed at the Markhams’ place. It’s a hotbed of will they/won’t they, partner swapping confusion and hilarity. Doors are opening, closing and characters are racing frantically about the place in an attempt to maintain the subterfuge. We’re frequently reminded of the publishing business at the heart of the tale, never more so than when Olive Harriet Smythe (Elizabeth Elvin) makes an appearance, in search of a new publisher for her children’s books – a publisher who isn’t all about sex!
Mark Curry is a revelation and ideally cast as the over-worked, hapless Phillip Markham, he doesn’t know if he’s coming or going – quite literally, in fact at times he’s not even sure who he is! Finty WIlliams is a superb match as his wife, Jo, she conveys so much with one look or gesture and keeps the flow of the farce fantastically. Delme Thomas captivated me in his role of Alistair Spenlow, a flick of the eyebrow and a delighted expression on his face was enough to have me rolling in the aisle and his energy was boundless. Andrew Hall was debonair and cool as Henry Lodge, he commanded authority and the twinkle in his eye enhanced his characterisation of the role. Judy Buxton’s comic timing as Linda Lodge was spot on throughout, every move was measured and precise – she’s the perfect fit for a farce of this calibre. Matched, of course by her real life husband, Jeffrey Holland who played business-card wielding Walter, predictably brilliantly. Holland played Walter as the epitome of confusion, especially when he thought he was going to have some fun with Linda and she was in search of a teapot before he could get any further! Elizabeth Elvin was a sheer delight as the bumbling author, Olive Harriet Smythe, she’s the cherry on the cake amongst a cast who are all at the top of their game.
The set design was pure seventies with nods towards the luxurious elegance which Jo Markham was trying to achieve and Phillip Markham was not ‘feeling’. Numerous exits and entrances are a must for this fast-paced piece and there were plenty available.
If you want a fun, light-hearted, albeit slightly complex belly laugh-inducing farce to get your teeth into – this is the one to go and see. I’d watch it again if I could! Hilariously witty, tongue-twisting humour, slightly un-PC, yet it doesn’t seem to matter. Catch the limited run while you can.