Monday, January 24, 2022

The country farce A Christmas Getaway bubbles like champagne

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A great delight is the multitasking cast, playing over four times as many roles with four players

Written and directed by Feargus Woods Dunlop, it’s a PG Wodehouse and Morecambe and Wise inspired country comedy of sexual shenanigans with a pinch of Noël Coward private life.

Many family Christmases degenerate into farce, but few in such frenetic fashion as this one, dreamed up by touring company New Old Friends.

It’s as bubbly as a sip of champagne, if not quite the full glass – the second act eases off a bit. But its greatest delight is its relentlessly multitasking cast, playing four times as many roles – sometimes simultaneously.

Eamonn Fleming’s smug, underpaid and overworked butler, Fambridge, updates us on family affairs in a breakneck opening song worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan.

The chinless, brainless Jamesons plan to flog their ancestral bunch and sack the staff. But first, they all make their way individually to a celebratory bunk with their respective pieces on the side, each convinced that the house will be empty.

Patriarch Carl has sex with a cocky real estate agent; his wife Kath shags Sam Drudge, her daughter’s dimwitted fiancé; and Drudge’s spoiled heir-intended Kim has fallen in love with a red hot Frenchman.

Fambridge himself is infatuated with the housekeeper, Ms Stokes, and is desperate to raise enough money to marry her; Little maid Mitsy moves on with Len, an accommodating local who becomes involved in Fambridge’s get-rich-quick scheme.

Connie Watson’s balustraded two-story set offers plenty of hiding spots and convenient exits, and the quick transformations are surprisingly adept.

A slick gag with slick trompe l’oeil costumes features Sedona Rose, who plays both Mitsy and Len, who loves herself; and Kirsty Cox, who plays both Kath and her husband’s adulteress, also appears as a full trio of carolers.

Fambridge and Ms Stokes (Cox again) get a hilariously hilarious cocktail-mixing routine choreographed by Sam Archer. And Emile Clarke is a wonderfully accomplished clown: his French revolutionary is pure Marcel Marceau, and he turns blustering Carl and goofy Drudge into two very different if equally idiotic toffs.

The contemporary top-down drama is balanced by modern idioms, and there’s a touch of satire when Fambridge sings about “the bastards in charge/looking down on the little people while they live big”.

Basically, though, this is just a modest good time. It would be even better with more texture: for farce to reach its sublime hysteria, we need to invest in it, and these characters are too broad to care. But Woods Dunlop’s production is so ingenious and full of benevolence that you have to smile.

Until January 8th, 01225 448844, Theater Royal Bath

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