Triple Decker of Comedy

June 2, 2016 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆      Funny

Holy Cross Church Hall: Weds 1 – Sat 4 June 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Full of energy and laughter, St Serf’s Players’ Triple Decker of Comedy is a patchy affair, but extremely endearing.

The three single-act plays vary in tone and quality. In truth, there are two-, three- and four-star pieces here, but in the end they combine to make a fast-paced and funny evening.

Erica & Me by Alan Robinson, performed by St Serf Players starring Charlie West, Derek Ward, Rona Arrnot, Vicki Horne, Lyndsey Spence.Sophie Williams and Fredericka Morrison

Erica & Me. Photo by Walter Hampsen at the SCDA One Act Festival

There is a tentative air to the opener, Caught on the Hop by David Foxton, a comedy of infidelities and mistaken identities set in 1890s Paris. It is well constructed piece, with familiar characters and situations, and is amusing enough.

However it fails to ignite. Perhaps the decision to present three plays, not two, was made to provide value for money, but with tickets priced at an inviting £5 this was never an issue.

It cannot be to let the largest possible number of performers take part, as the same cast are used throughout. This results in some of them spreading themselves a little too thinly and taking a while to get into their rhythm.

Caught on the Hop is at its strongest when broadest. Charlie West’s physical clowning as the Porter is of the highest order, while Philip Wilson impresses as the scheming husband Etienne. In authentic French style, the central character is an independent-minded, long-suffering servant – Clothilde, who is given a well-judged performance by Sophie Williams.

breakneck speed

If the first play produces a reserved chuckle rather than a full-throated laugh, this is not the case with the central presentation. Alan Robinson’s Erica and Me won first place for St Serf’s in this year’s Edinburgh heat of the SCDA One Act Festival, and it is easy to see why.

Best Moment of Theatre - The throwing of two drinks followed by a double slap". Photo: Walter Hampson

Best Moment of Theatre – “The throwing of two drinks followed by a double slap”. Photo: Walter Hampson

The play also appeared in a similar compendium at Saughtonhall last year. Its growing popularity with community groups can be explained by its one set and a cast of seven, five of whom are female. However, it is a puzzling affair. The story of an awkward man hiring an escort to pose as his girlfriend in order to impress his boss is extremely dated for a recent piece, suggesting a lame 70s comedy, probably starring Terry Scott.

Here it makes more sense, played as it is at breakneck speed. It hinges on the nerdy Simon, played by Charlie West. At first he seems too young to be so jaded, but his guileless, open-faced charm adds greatly to the character. His comic skills are given full reign, with beautiful verbal timing and some expertly performed slapstick.

His nervous fidgeting with his spectacles can only evoke Eric Morecambe; that such a comparison does not instantly seem sacrilegious only goes to show how much promise this young man has.

Philip Wilson’s direction is notably sure-footed and pacy. He ensures that there is always something going on; indeed, at times, perhaps too much. One moment, particularly celebrated in the SCDA competition, where West is slapped in the face twice in quick succession, is difficult for the majority of the audience to see clearly.

highly pleasing

This is partly because of an awkward acting space. Delays in the refurbishment of St Serf’s have meant a late switch to the accommodating Holy Cross Church Hall. The lack of a stage, coupled with an almost square room, mean that sightlines are less than ideal.

However, the overall impact is highly pleasing. Derek Ward and Rona Arnott, as the boss and his wife, give very grounded and funny performances. Vicki Horne’s chipmunk-like inquisitiveness gives real depth to what could be a tiresome ‘comedy foreigner’ routine. Lynsey Spence, Sophie Williams and Fredericka Morrison all have relatively small roles but are fully-formed characters from the off, with Williams particularly convincing.

Apart from Celia Johnson’s daughter in Brief Encounter, there cannot be many people who lament June’s lack of pantomimes. Even those of us who love the genre would not necessarily be in favour of year-round performances. So the evening’s closing offering, Red Hot Cinders, seems an odd choice for a sunny evening.

Richard Tydeman’s distillation of Cinderella is a very useful one, shoehorning all that is important into under half an hour – but this concentration gives it a manic sheen that makes it appear even odder here. Once we submit to such crazy inappropriateness, however, it is largely successful, even if the lack of variety in attendees’ ages causes audience participation to suffer.

West this time directs, and he is obviously full of ideas. There is an air of fun to it, with some energetic and engaging performances. Not everything is wholly successful. A script full of excruciating rhymes needs to be relished, not thrown away as it sometimes is – a situation not helped by music occasionally drowning the words. Conversely, even the biggest performances need careful judging, and there is an inexact, ragged edge to some of the staging.

Philip Wilson and Derek Ward’s ugly sisters are spot on, however, with Vicki Horne and Lynsey Spence cleverly delineating a pair of feuding would-be narrators. Sophie Williams turns in an impressively modern Cinderella, and Rona Arnott’s stepmother is gleefully wicked. The rest of the cast seize their moments, with Dorsay Larnach’s fairy godmother particularly poised.

The lack of cohesion to the evening suggests that it happened because someone simply thought it might be fun – which it undoubtedly is. It is a mixed bag, but great enjoyment overall, and worth considerably more than a fiver.

Running time 2 hours (including two intervals)
Holy Cross RC Church Hall, Bangholm Loan, Edinburgh EH5 3AH
Wednesday 1 – Saturday 4 June 2016 (not Friday).
Evenings: Wednesday and Thursday at 7.30 pm, Saturday at 6.30 pm.
Tickets from http://www.stserfsplayers.org.uk/tickets/Tickets.html

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