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See How They Run

Lynda Moyo enjoys an old-fashioned farce at the Royal Exchange

Written by . Published on January 15th 2009.

See How They Run

British comedy has moved on some way from the days of slapstick. Whilst we still make room for the elaborate performances of Lee Evans and the melodrama of You've Been Framed, post-modern humour notably takes the very dry and subtle form of shows such as The Office and Peep Show. Which begs the question of whether it is still possible to find a 'banana skin skid' moment hilarious?

See How They Run is playwright Philip King’s fast-paced, uproarious farce currently showing at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre. Essentially a farce depends upon acute timing and an overwhelming yet necessary abundance of energy. Although slow to begin with, See How They Run, managed to capture both of these key elements as the audience followed this utterly preposterous tale. Once the actors settled into their roles and more characters were introduced, the performances were smooth, sharp, polished and most importantly, funny.

Set in the living room of the vicarage, the Toops, Reverend Lionel Toop and his wife Penelope Toop, find themselves in a tangle of gossip and misconstrued affairs. All the key players of an English farce are there. The ditsy maid, pompous parishioner, two comedy vicars, a bolshy bishop, a silly soldier and a Nazi German prisoner. The title, See How They Run, was taken from the line in the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice, and you can understand why, as both this play and the rhyme depict a ludicrous tale.

Much of the story centres around a format which is used in many of today's soaps: don't believe everything you see. Misread events and mistaken identities result in several characters fainting, hiding in the vicar's cupboard and downing cooking sherry, whilst a culmination of figures wind up running around (one half naked) dressed as clergy, much to the confusion of the visiting Bishop of Lax. This character is played by the majestic Arthur Bostrom who, in one of the funniest lines of the play, begs of the sergeant, “Sergeant, arrest most of these vicars!”

Bostrom of 'Allo 'Allo! fame is particularly impressive in his performance. In true slapstick style, it's not what he says but the way he says it, with believable facial animation and a certain camp edge that has the audience cracking up. The character of the maid, Ida, played by Kate O'Flynn also has to be commended for her ability to typify the comedy role of the dim-witted maid in a play which also draws light on the 1940s British class system.

After a short interval, in which I'm sure the cast downed a case of Red Bull, the mayhem continues with even more surprises at twice the speed. The whole story then comes together as readily as it unfolds. Trousers back up, sherry bottle empty, everyone alive, happily ever after; a true farce.

See How They Run delivers a laughably absurd display whilst managing to avoid falling into the cringe-worthy panto trap. The cast are constantly active and this makes for brilliant viewing in what would otherwise just be a silly story. The Royal Exchange welcomed a notably over-50s audience for this particular play which made sense given that this is the comedy of their era. However, quite astonishingly the few age exceptions (including myself) thoroughly enjoyed it too. I put this down to the cast, who provide a performance able to hold its own amongst modern comedy, whilst remaining, rather amusingly, quintessentially English.

See How They Run is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 24 January. Box office: 0161 833 9833.

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DisappointedJanuary 15th 2009.

Was this review written by a GCSE student?

NiallJanuary 15th 2009.

Laughed my ass off. A good enough reason to go see.

LulworthJanuary 15th 2009.

A good review of an amusing play, worth a visit. I dont understand the GCSE inference however, perhaps 'disappointed' should go back to school.

James DaleJanuary 15th 2009.

Nothing wrong with the review and the play sounds a laugh even though the demographic seems old. Might still go though.

JoanJanuary 15th 2009.

A good review and a really fun production. I particularly liked the fact that the reviewer didn’t spoil theatregoers’ enjoyment by narrating too much of the plot. So, Mister Disappointed, I wasn’t – disappointed that is, either with the review or with the production. In my opinion the funniest line was ‘Ot’, as in ‘Hot’. You had to be there.

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