Billed as one of the most successful British comedies ever written, it takes a brave director to tackle Michael Frayn’s classic farce-within-a-farce, which first premiered at Hammersmith’s Lyric Theatre in 1982.
This second Made in Colchester production of the 2015 season does justice to Frayn’s frenetic masterpiece, based on the error-strewn backstage dramas of a touring theatre company.
Rarely is a set required to showcase backstage, as well as the facade normally presented to the audience, yet Dawn Allsopp’s revolving two-tiered beamed country retreat, complete with perilous stairs and numerous slamming doors, deserves acclaim since it offers an exclusive dual perspective.
If ever the term ‘team effort’ was appropriate, it’s here. Peter Ellis’ marvellous whisky-soaked Selsdon and Louise Jameson’s doddering sardine-obsessed Dotty may prove instant favourites with the audience, yet the nine-piece ensemble delivers memorable contributions as a package.
Whether bungling entrances, forgetting lines, or engaging in side-splitting mime, the cast’s comic timing is repeatedly on cue, creating a seamless portrayal of rising chaos. Louis Tamone’s blood vessel-bursting turn as tense Garry is often reminiscent of a frenzied Basil Fawlty and David Shelley’s hapless Frederick provokes satisfying schadenfreude.
With agitation written all over his face, Hywel Simons excels as sarcastic director Lloyd, while further strong contributions come in the form of Sara Crowe’s sincere Belinda, full of twee pleasantries.
Sarah Jayne Dunn’s lingerie-clad Brooke is more than mere eye-candy and Louise Kempton’s Poppy, the emotional wreck of an assistant to the overworked stage manager Tim (Dan Cohen), supplement a cast rich in quality.
Daniel Buckroyd’s production will leave you in tears – of the gleeful rib-tickling kind.
Running time: 2hrs 30mins