One for the Pot, Aldeburgh
One for the Pot by Ray Cooney and John Hilton, Jill Freud and Company, Jubilee Theatre, Aldeburgh until Saturday; St Edmunds Hall Southwold 13- 25 August.
One for the Pot by Ray Cooney and John Hilton, Jill Freud and Company, Jubilee Theatre, Aldeburgh until Saturday; St Edmunds Hall, Southwold, 13- 25 August.
The spirit of Brian Rix oozes out of every pore of Ray Cooney's farce, One for the Pot, the third play in Jill Freud's summer season. Slamming doors, confused identities, clouts over the head, disguises galore, trouserless moments, splurges of showboating verbal gymnastics, roguish men and put-upon women- that's what you get.
In the fifties and sixties when the Whitehall farces were a permanent feature of the West End, the new Rix vehicle would come out, as often as not get panned by the critics and then run for years. A true actor-manager, Brian Rix had a nose for what the public then liked. The critics were free to take a running jump.
Ray Cooney performed as a young actor at the Whitehall Theatre, watching how the Rix farces worked and this, a collaborative effort with John Hilton, was the first of his seventeen hit plays,
It's broad-brush stuff with barely a trace of probability or real character portrayal in it. The comic pyrotechnics that can be drawn from the plot is what it's all about.
Gerry Hinks plays a rich mill-owner advertising that he wants to give £10,000 to the sole living relative of his mill's late manager. He thinks this means giving it to a pleasant but gormless North Country lad, Billy Hickory Woods.
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Billy turns up at the house, but so do other long-lost brothers - all played originally by Brian Rix and here by Nigel Pilkington. Convoluted confusion takes over, the works greased by a butler on the make (a smarmy Jonathan Ashley) and a cheeky chappy imposter of a solicitor (played by Clive Flint, who must lose pounds by the time the show is over).
The there's the Maurice Rubens set with lots of doors, ingenious places to hide booze, deft devices for hiding people and a side-table drawer which can be turned into a useful weapon with the merest stamp on the floor.
The cast needs to hit the ground running, escalating as the complications proliferate. For Clive Flint, Jonathan Ashley and Nigel Pilkington there are showcase moments of breakneck clowning, the whole well orchestrated by director Richard Frost.
The Whitehall farces captured something of the lively vulgarity of the Edwardian music-hall. Some of them were even televised live from the Whitehall Theatre - a curious mixture of entertainment media.
Ray Cooney's writing got better as it went along. This production of his first piece does it more than justice.