As a producer and director Ray Cooney has been responsible for over thirty London productions. He is today recognised, at the age of 74, theatrically and publicly as "the master of farce". He is a most prolific writer and has been translated into more than forty foreign languages. As opposed to romantic comedies, farces usually do not contain a traditional plot involving frustrated young lovers who eventually surmount all obstacles. Rather they frequently focus on a transgression of a character's urge to hide something from the other characters, and the unforeseen chain reaction that results.
Abingdon Drama Club stage There Goes the Bride written in 1975, by Ray Cooney with the collaboration of John Chapman. The Director at the Unicorn's production is Keith Hales. He excellently leads his cast at a frantic pace towards the climax in which the initial problem is resolved one way or another through an hilarious twist in the plot.
There Goes The Bride is a classic. The play has all the standard elements of a Ray Cooney farce that we have come to expect: mistaken/assumed identities, confused characters and yarn spinning that spins out of control. The play also has a unique twist - an imaginary character which appears to only one character on stage.
Polly Perkins is played with consummate skill by Alex Codling whose dancing and singing voice are a pleasure to watch and hear. The choreographer was the capable Alex Messenger.
It's the morning of Judy's wedding and her harried ad agency executive father, played by Andrew Down, gets banged on the head and starts to imagine that a promotional prop has come to life. The whole family gets caught up in the confusion as Tim Westerby carries on with his new girl friend. Andrew is on the stage for almost all of the play and he plays the character with energy and verve. I particularly liked him when he reverted to the 1920's. His dive through the first floor, window overturning the marquee in the garden, was spectacular and the audience held its breath. During the play Andrew hardly has time to draw breath as he works on his twenties flapper girl campaign for a new design of bra.
Poor Judy Westerby is suitably distraught over getting married without her father to give her away at the altar. It is her many retreats to the bedroom that gives the play its name. As various characters on the stage cry "There Goes the Bride", Judy Westerby, well played by Deborah Emett, rushes through the inevitable double doors to the safety of her bedroom.
Getting a bride ready is always a trying time, but when the bride's mother is helped by interfering relatives and the bride's father is in the process of falling in love with a seductive girl that he only can see, you can guarantee that a good time is had by all.
The performance by the bride's mother Ani Lewis is superb. She is one of the great assets of the Abingdon Drama Club. Her wedding dress was exactly right and she looked stunning. Ani has a special talent which was well suited to the playing required in any farce of this nature. She gives a strong performance.
The introduction of the daughter's prospective father-in-law from Australia adds to a further complication when Tim imagines that he is a Hollywood film producer. The scenes when Polly and Tim try to convince him that they are Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire are hilarious. The part of Charles Babcock is well played with convincing accent by John Rourke.
Bill, a family friend, is played by John Kearsey. He adds much weight and humour and dare I say height, and is well cast as the business partner with an eye for the bride's mother. Malcolm Ross is splendid as the bewildered grandfather of the bride.
Once again the performance of Eileen Bagshaw as the bride's grandmother was superb. I have seen Eileen down the years and I cannot really think of a better performance. In a way she holds the play together with her beautifully timed lines. Chemistry is as high a priority as talent in casting, and Eileen proves once again her considerable talent and capacity to move the play along. She well understands how to play farce. It needs a generosity of spirit. Farce is teamwork. Eileen has the stamina the precision and the dexterity that farce demands. You can't have selfish actors pulling attention at the wrong moment, and she knows this. It was a delight every moment she was on stage.
The combination of a good cast, a good crew and a good script always results in a great show. The backstage crew were unobtrusively led by Louise Appleton with the help of Jill Calvert and Barry Lloyd. The lighting of the set was skilfully arranged by Mike Ward and the sound was in the hands of David Taylor. The costumes were a delight. Jane Cadogan was responsible for these. Sheila Hales was a great support on this first night. Once again Malcolm Ross and Keith Hales were responsible for an ingenious set and excellent use of the forestage as an office.
For all Cooney's craftsmanship, not everyone succumbs to the broad brushstrokes of his characterisation. Cooney says, "Quite a lot of intellectuals do appreciate my plays." Is farce a lowbrow form? But I remember that one time I was in Moscow there was a Ray Cooney farce playing at the Moscow Arts Theatre.
The director Keith Hales presents a show that both the cast and the audience enjoyed and would remember as a good experience. Who needs football?