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Donkeys’ Years

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Being shown to your seat by ushers clad in full academic regalia sets the tone for this spirited revival of Michael Frayn’s 1976 farce about an Oxbridge college reunion that goes horribly awry.

What starts off as an Ayckbournesque comedy of social manners – a bunch of middle-aged men of varying distinction and self-importance harking back to their misspent youth – descends into out and out trouser-dropping farce as alcohol is liberally consumed, inhibitions are shed and animal instincts inevitably prevail.

As a piece of dramatic craftsmanship it is not in the same league as Frayn’s masterly Noises Off 1982, relying far too heavily on the harmony of the ensemble to provide a mounting sense of hysteria.

Whether it is Lisa Spirling’s direction or the uneven casting, the bottom line is that it is not nearly as funny as it ought to be, despite the best efforts of the company. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the audience longing for belly laughs when all it could offer was the odd titter.

However, it was good to see the wonderful Keith Barron back on stage as Birkett, the venerable college porter, according his unprepossessing guests a deference they neither deserved nor appreciated.

Nick Smurthwaite

  • Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames
  • February 12-22
  • Author: Michael Frayn
  • Director: Lisa Spirling
  • Producer: Rose Theatre
  • Cast: Keith Barron, Jamie Glover, Nicholas Rowe, Ian Hughes, Jason Durr, John Hodgkinson, Simon Coates, James Dutton, Jemma Redgrave.
  • Running time: 2hrs
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