The Two of Us

By Michael Frayn

Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds Rural Tour

In Bury until Saturday and then touring Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

Box office 01284 769505

FARCE is an often maligned theatrical genre, but in the hands of a fine playwright, good director and talented cast it’s a joy to behold.

The ridiculous lengths characters are driven to are only believable if the initial situation contains a reality with which they can identify.

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In Gnomes, the fourth and final of the short plays which make up The Two of Us, Jo and Stephen realise that between them they have invited both halves of a recently split couple - plus her new boyfriend.

The ensuing energetic and very funny unravelling of their dinner party is wonderful to behold, as they try to keep drunk, bitter Barney in the kitchen, away from brittle Bee and her new squeeze.

Michael Frayn is not your average playwright and his farce is note-perfect, brilliantly choreographed and full of comedy.

It helps that it is in the hands of the Theatre Royal’s talented team and performed by engaging, versatile, big-hearted Alys Torrance and Simon Nock. There are a few misplaced first-night words, but given the volume, speed and diversity of material Torrance and Nock must deliver, they are easy to forgive.

Gnomes is an uproarious end to the second half of the programme. Before the interval, the duo play three other couples, each with their own problems.

This being Frayn, the comedy contains thought-provoking commentary on life and relationships.

The first vignette, Black and Silver, concerns a couple returning to their Venice honeymoon hotel for an anniversary - but this time tortured by their newborn baby, which is supposed to be asleep in a pram in the bathroom. The description of their relationship now, compared to how it was on their first trip to Venice, will resound with many parents.

It’s perhaps the weakest of the pieces but is followed by the marvellous The New Quixote.

Middle-aged Gina awakes the morning after a party to find that last night she somehow slept with a much younger man, a complete nerd called Kenneth, who is now moving his stuff into her flat. It’s a quick-fire, intelligent work, with a bit of particle physics and Freud thrown in. The performances are just great.

Between plays, the actors rearrange their own set and help each other into costumes in amusingly choreographed musical sequences, she glaring at him from time to time, very couple-like, when he hands her a heavy suitcase. It’s as much fun to watch as the scripted bits.

Mr Foot is a warning to all married couples of a certain age. The foot in question belongs to stuffy Geoffrey and won’t stop tapping or wiggling as he reads his stultifying history books. This jigging foot is driving nuts his trapped wife, tellingly known only by his name for her, Nibs. As she delivers a virtual monologue about the state of their marriage and her dreams of escape, the foot reacts but the rest of the husband seldom does.

It’s yet more for the brain to chew on afterwards, from a production at turns bitter, sweet, but mainly very funny.

Mark Crossley