Out of Order

Date 24th May 2013
Society Actonians Drama Group
Venue Village Hall, Iron Acton
Type of Production Comedy
Director Bob Allen


Author: Graeme Savage

Ray Cooney, the master of farce, can be both a blessing and a curse to amateur theatre companies. The scripts are a comic gift – where other farceurs can tangle themselves in knots and require deus ex machina to tie up loose ends, Cooney’s surprisingly subtle and occasionally sledgehammer wit and writing can make even the most bizarre and ridiculous situations seem like the most perfectly natural decisions for his beleaguered protagonists. But herein lies the pitfalls for the amateur society – everything needs to work perfectly to make this come together; the clarity of the diction when every line and word counts; the precision of the entrances and exits, can the characters make us believe that they are really in these situations? Of course, the professional companies make this look seamless with their big budgets, fancy sets and weeks of dedicated rehearsal time, but can the village society with one or two rehearsals a week find the fluency and lightness of touch to do justice to the master’s work…?

This was Actonians’ debut play as a NODA affiliated society, and having heard good reports of the incredibly challenging production of The 39 Steps earlier in the year, I must admit that expectations were high. The warm welcome received by me from the company, and the full house on a warm Friday evening only added to the sense of intrigue and anticipation, and we were not to be disappointed.

The curtain rose on an excellently detailed set, which was to become a star in its own right through the course of the evening. Not least the working sash window, which has almost as many cues as the actors, and to my eye seemed to drop on cue every time. What also impressed was the attention to detail for the offstage areas – a genuine sense that the doors led to corridors and that the window opened onto a small ledge. This may seem an obvious thing to your society, but it does make such a difference when this level of detail is included, and the company isn’t relying on black masking or tabs immediately behind the scenes.

Despite a little bit of a slow start (which one often finds with farce, particularly with a full house when the audiences expectation possibly exceeds or ignores the fact that we still need to establish the characters), once the set-ups had been introduced, the cast tore through the next 2 hours with great fun, energy and tear-inducing hilarity. Central to this was the indomitable Rob Pardoe as Richard Willey, at times conjuring up Basil Fawlty-esque levels of frustration with his frantic  performance, but showing calm in quieter moments, which allowed the audience to catch its breath and take in what has happened, and where we may be going. Credit for this must also go to Bob Allen’s skilful direction, evident in a cast that was so confident with their timing, entrances and moves (crucial to many of the visual gags). Also, and just as importantly, for varying the pace at times, allowing the audience time to understand the increasingly bizarre plot, when the temptation could easily have been to race through to the next gag or set-piece.

Nick Pearce was equally excellent as George Pidgen, the perfect foil for Rob’s Willey (as it were!), earning great sympathy from the audience as the frustration bottles up, but without sacrificing any of the humour when he explodes in the second half. Sarah Godsell gave a great performance as Jane Worthington, especially with some very brave costumes, and thoroughly believable as she played along with the MP’s games. In fact there was not a weak link in this very strong cast – each role played with confidence, with clear diction and clearly defined characters which developed into much more than the plot devices which they could easily have become. Special mention must go to Simon Carney for his performance as the body – having directed a production of Lucky Stiff recently, which requires a dead body to be wheeled around the stage for the whole play, I appreciate the level of concentration which has to go in to remaining completely motionless and having to rely on your fellow actors to move you. Our ‘body’ said that it was far more demanding than any speaking role he had ever played, and seeing Simon after the show, I can well believe that he may sympathise with this! A brilliant performance within an outstanding company. Even the smallest cameo is crucial in Cooney farces, where single lines and even words and gestures can signify a massive plot twist, and in this case, absolutely nothing was missed.

Another sign of a company working at the top of its game is how little one notices of the ‘extras’ – the costumes were good, and matched where required; the simple lighting appropriate to the single room set and focussed in the right areas;  and key sound effects appeared to be working as required, avoiding any Acorn Antiques-esque moments of ghostly telephone rings etc. I congratulate those working behind-the-scenes to ensure that everything went so smoothly for the actors onstage.

Overall, this was an excellent production, a top-quality and well-executed farce. Congratulations to all involved, and for generating such a wonderful, warm atmosphere for your audience, who clearly have great respect for your dedication and hard work, but also were encouraged to just have a bloody good laugh!!  I am delighted that a company of this calibre has teamed up with NODA and I look forward greatly to your forthcoming productions.