Comedy Double Bill – Review

May 1 2014 | By More

Secretarial Skills and The Real Inspector Hound
✭✭✭✩✩    Picked mix

St Ninian’s Church Hall Mon 28 April – Sat 3 May

A mixed bag of comedy is to be had up at St Ninian’s this week, where Edinburgh Theatre Arts are giving a decent take on one-act comedies new and old.

Edith Peers and Danny Farrimond. Photo © John McLinden

Secretarial Skills: Edith Peers and Danny Farrimond. Photo © John McLinden

The new is in the form of Secretarial Skills, the second of Peter Quilter’s Duets, four short two-handers which examine various stages of marriage.

The second half is given over to Tom Stoppard’s twisting 1968 comedy, The Real Inspector Hound. Pleasing stuff, which lampoons the whodunit and the theatre critic in equal measure while working hard on a tightly constructed play-within-a-play structure.

In the opening Secretarial Skills, Edith Peers plays Janet, the super-efficient personal secretary to Danny Farrimond’s flamboyant gay celebrity Barrie. It’s his birthday and she’s just organised a party at three hours notice. It is also their 5,000th day working together.

Peers and Farrimond put in a pair of thoroughly reputable performances in a tricky piece. Director David McCallum has rightly concentrated on getting Quilter’s characters established – and both performers have found depths which are not immediately apparent from the script.

It isn’t quite there yet as a comedy, however. Farrimond could do a lot more to find the big outrageous side of Barrie’s character as well as his personal, insecure side. He is right not to overdo the caricature of camp, and the piece is all the better for it, but there is more fun to be had there.

Peers does a great job too, but you can’t help but feel that she, too, has more to offer. Her Janet is a delicious frisson of sexual tension and sensuality about her – yet seems slightly too apologetic of the command and authority which she has in the household.

This is a piece which has huge potential – and it will be fascinating to see if the two performers can grow to truly own their roles when they return with all four of the Duets in November.

“guzzles the Black Magic and ogles the actresses…”

Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound is a treat. It’s the one about two theatre critics at the opening night of a hackneyed, sub-Christie whodunit.

David Gibson and Colin McPherson as the critics in The Real Inspector Hound. Photo © John McLinden

David Gibson (Birdfoot) and Colin McPherson (Moon) as the critics in The Real Inspector Hound. Photo © John McLinden

The play within the play, created with the most sketchy of scenes, is increasingly over-the-top. As the critics, Moon and Birdfoot, obsess about their own lives, they become woven into the on-stage drama as it builds towards an ending that is a parody The Mousetrap’s.

Colin McPherson and David Gibson are in excellent form as the critics.

McPherson’s Moon is the second string critic to the unseen Higgs – and is himself looking over his shoulder at third-string critic Puckeridge. Moon’s cry for the second-stringers everywhere, the second born and understudy, is brilliantly put.

Gibson’s predatory Birdfoot guzzles the Black Magic and ogles the actresses – one of whom he has already given the benefit of a personal audience and the other whom he has every intention of providing with an in-depth analysis – while professing to his deeply happy marriage.

There are plenty of clever ways of staging the play, but director John McLinden has gone for a simple technique in using microphones for the critics. In this way, their sotto voce ramblings are clear but distinct from the strong vocal projection of the play they are watching.

It is the whodunit itself that really needs beefing up. It has the brevity and brutal exposition it should, and David McCallum is exactly right with a posing, over-the-top parody as the interloper.

But elsewhere it needs to go a lot further down that same road. Jean Anthony does a nice enough job as housekeeper, Mrs Drudge, as does Iain Kerr as wheelchair-bound Major Magnus. But both have plenty of room to add to the cliché of their characters.

It is Nikki Furnivall, as young house guest Felicity Cunningham, and Mags McPherson as her host, Lady Muldoon, who really need to up the crispness of the comedy. If any play demanded self-centred overacting then it is this one: if both actresses were to really let rip, then the comedy would increase no end.

As it stands, this is a rewarding pair of productions with plenty to laugh about between them, but which you can’t help thinking could step up several notches.

Running time 1 hr 40 mins.
St Ninian’s Hall, Comely Bank Road, 40 Comely Bank, EH4 1AG
Mon 28 April – Sat 3 May 2014.
Daily 7.30pm; Sat matinee 2.30pm.
Ticket Details on Edinburgh Theatre Arts website:

Both scripts are available to buy from Amazon:

Click on the links above to go to the relevant pages.


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