Rumours

by Neil Simon; dir Graham Underhill

Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth

27 June – 2 July 2011

We are used to seeing farces penned by British playwrights, but here’s one from an American. That may seem a difficult pairing, but this American is the prolific Neil Simon, probably best known here as the writer of The Odd Couple, and he takes on the genre with ease.

As farces rely a lot on quick action, misunderstandings, mistaken identities and a ridiculous combination of events crammed together in quick succession, trying to explain the plot would take almost as long as seeing the play. So I’ll just get you started.

A government minister, Charlie, and his wife, Vivienne, are hosting a dinner party to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary and have invited four other ‘professional’ couples to attend. At the start of the play, the first couple, Christine and Ken have clearly been present for a while. What soon becomes clear is that Vivienne has disappeared and Charlie has been shot through the ear, seemingly in an attempted suicide, and is now lying injured upstairs. Realising that a scandal may arise over a suicide attempt by a man in Charlie’s position, Ken is keen to keep the whole thing hushed up, even from the other guests, at least until Charlie is in a fit state to explain what has happened.

Before long, the other couples start to arrive and each is given a short time to introduce their characters and add some new complication before the next turns up. The characters are more stereotyped than real, but that’s what you’d expect in a farce. The complications include a car crash, a number of injuries (in the car, the kitchen and the driveway), more gunfire, a deafened guest, accusations of infidelity, and so on. No-one in their underwear however; perhaps that’s how we can tell it’s not a British farce. The arrival of the police raises the confusion to a new level, at least among the police officers, as the guests attempt to come up  a comprehensive explanation of events and we enjoy their discomfort.

Whether the script was adapted by the director or has been published that way, I was pleased to see that it had been anglicised in terms of place names, accents, etc. rather than sticking with original New York setting. It made the characters more familiar.

Does it work? Yes, on the whole. It was a little down on pace, not too much, but a bit more would have made a big difference. Maybe this will improve later in the run. For the most part, the cast did a competent job and worked well together; there was an ensemble-like feel in many scenes. Coupled with that ensemble feel is a tendency for individuals not to stand out, but I particularly enjoyed John Nichols’ ebullience and Des Cole’s manic explanation to the police.

Rumours is a pleasant night out and should give you a few laughs at the very least.

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