Move Over Mrs Markham review at the Mill at Sonning – ‘precision engineered farce’
In the age of the sexual revolution, British dramatists used farce as a device to satirise the disintegration of old-fashioned social mores – and the public lapped it up.
But once fashionable plays can swiftly fall out of fashion. Times change. It makes sense that director Ray Cooney sets this production of his and John Chapman’s play, Move Over Mrs Markham, resolutely in the 1970s. The middle-classes were contentedly feathering nests, youth culture was on the rise and sex was suddenly available to everybody.
Cooney has a long association with the Mill at Sonning, even so it’s not worth attempting farce unless you have a company with the essential technical skills to make it work.
From the moment Finty Williams walks onto Jackie Dougan’s garishly appointed set as the well-to-do Mrs Markham, her pitch and energy set the tone. Farce has a manic rhythm and Williams, and indeed all the cast, grasp this. Mark Curry, as the bemused Mr Markham, and Delme Thomas, as the effete interior designer Spenlow, gleefully negotiate the web of white lies, infidelity and mistaken identity with precision timing.
There’s barely a weak link in the cast and the icing on the cake arrives in Act II, with the arrival of Elizabeth Elvin’s gloriously dour children’s author and Jeffrey Holland as the nervous, bowler-hatted philanderer Pangbourne.
Cooney directs with a buttoned-down precision and the cast respond to this instinctively. The play probably wouldn’t stand updating but this production glories in a past that saw huge changes in the social make-up of the country.