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ACTS review

Philip King’s farce opened in 1945 and not even an exploding doodle bug could stop the show. This outrageously contrived, flawed, very funny with more than a tinge of nostalgia, and full of bulldog–spirit play is always worth a revival. The setting for the play is the mythical village of Merton-cum-Middlewick, a village where the inhabitants are living under the imminent threat of a Nazi Invasion.

The action takes place in the sitting room of the vicarage. A detailed box set complete with period props set the ambience of the piece. Although the lighting I felt was at times a little basic, there were opportunities for some nice effects. This did not detract from the madcap goings on. Seemingly a new trend for plays, the mixes for the reinforced sound were good. I am sure the cast was more than capable of projecting their lines. (Let us not forget that amplification is an aid, it is not a substitute for vocal delivery). All the characters were well costumed by this group’s impressive wardrobe department.

The direction kept a firm hand on the proceedings. As always in farce, the pace is everything. This resulted in the audience being carried through the unfolding story and the cast getting their just responses. A very strong cast was assembled to tell the tale of the goings on in the Toop household.

Looking after the Reverend Lionel Troop, and his wife, Penelope, is their maid, Ida. Karen Jones gave such a well-crafted characterisation as the Welsh domestic. Karen’s performance was spot on.

We first meet the gossiping villager and resident nosy-parker spinster-of-the-parish, Miss Skillon. Barbara Mayers as the churchgoer of the parish and a scold, found all the character’s foibles which delivered with spot on timing. The inebriation scenes were well managed. Besides being one of the vicar’s fans there is no love lost between Miss Skillon and Mrs Toop.

A chance meeting with her former co-actor, avant-garde and non-conforming ex-actress Penelope Troop creates all the play’s confusion. Clare Nash, as the off key singing, nonchalant, saucy trousered Mrs Toop captured the moment. Lance-Corporal Clive Wilton, back in civvies, is an actor who was once on tour with Penelope. Darren Nash nimbly fell into the chaos of jealousy and mistaken identity as the battle-dressed Clive.

With the command, “Sergeant – arrest most of these vicars at once”, as they take a lap around the house and garden are, The Reverend Lionel Toop, Clive Winton as another Reverend Toop, the intruder yet another Reverend Toop, The Reverend Arthur Humphrey and the Bishop of Lax.

As the real Lionel Toop, who is always on charitable business, Paul Jameson found the comedy and brought out all the farcical character elements. The Bishop of Lax is Uncle to Toop’s wife. Colin Magenty, as the bewildered Uncle, knows the value of expression and this, coupled with timing of a line, results in laughter. In his debut role Wayne Lythgoe delivered a creditable portrayal of the Reverend Arthur Humphrey’s.

The intruder is Karl Gerrard, a German prisoner of war, and he and a military sergeant (Pauline Nevell) added to the comedy mayhem. Order is finally restored, trousers and uniforms recovered, and decency once more prevails. This laudably performed classic British comedy had the audience shrieking with laughter.

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