Theatre review – Out of Order

Out of Order – review for Essential Surrey website

4 STARS. Ray Cooney’s Out of Order proves that farce handled properly can still make for a brilliant evening’s entertainment at the theatre, says Andrew Morris. Showing March 10-11.

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Ray Cooney has been associated with the theatre for a scarcely believable 70 years, initially as an actor but then also as a director and producer of his own trademark farces. Out of Order was first performed at the Theatre of Comedy in the 1980s. This revival will tour the country for 30 weeks. We were privileged to see it at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford, on just the second day of its long run.

Farce relies on structure, confusion, mistaken identity, a little bit of potential tragedy, and perfect timing. And often adultery. And, on this occasion, a sash window.

Out of Order takes place in Suite 648 of the Westminster Hotel, a stone’s throw from the Houses Of Parliament. Which is just as well, because suave Junior Minister Richard Willey (played by local actor Andrew Hall) is about to sleep with attractive young Jane Worthington (Susie Amy) – Jeremy Corbyn’s secretary – when he should be supporting Theresa May and his own Tory party in a crucial vote.

But their adulterous passion is thwarted by the unfortunate discovery of a dead body, wedged in the sash window behind the curtains of Suite 648. What would any self-serving, quick-thinking, philandering politician do in this awkward position? Well, obviously not report anything to the hotel management or to the police. What would Mr. Willey’s wife say, after all? Or the Prime Minister?

No, the only practical solution is to call your broad-shouldered and naive Principal Private Secretary. George Pidgen (Shaun Williamson) is soon caught up in his Minister’s increasingly tangled web of deceit. The momentum of the farce increases from scene to scene, as the quick-thinking politician creates ever more imaginative lies to save his own devious skin. Nothing like real life, clearly.

The Minister’s wife Pamela (Sue Holderness) arrives unexpectedly. As does Jane’s dim husband Ronnie (Jules Brown), suspecting his wife of having an affair and looking for his missing private detective to prove it. And then Nurse Gladys Foster (Elizabeth Elvin), carer for George’s elderly mother, after hearing that the previously shy civil servant appears to have got married that day, without telling them.

All the while, the hotel manager (Arthur Bostrom) casts a superior eye over the sordid shenanigans, and the sharper-than-he-seems room service waiter (James Holmes) cleans up on tips for facilitating the mayhem.

It’s easy to be sniffy about farce, and whilst it may not match Shakespeare for dramatic depth, this production of Out of Order clearly delighted the packed Guildford audience. The updated political references were a nice touch, and the entire cast launched themselves into the chaos of the plot with the energy of a back-bencher making his maiden speech.

An unexpected appearance by Mr Cooney himself, bounding onto the stage to help out when the curtains in Suite 648 collapsed in sympathy with the sash window, was a real bonus. The French have given this famous farceur the honour of calling him Le Feydeau Anglais. A much deserved accolade. Carry on farceing for many more years please, Ray.

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