Review: Black Comedy

Giorgio Ragozzino 5 May 2019
Image credit: Girton Amateur Dramatics Society

★★★★

A jobbing artist prepares to greet his fiancée’s father, while also awaiting an influential art dealer. To make a good impression, he has ‘borrowed’ his absent neighbour’s expensive furniture. They look set for a charming evening, which, God willing, will go well. Then the lights go out.

There’s a lot to love about this characterful, energetic staging of Peter Shaffer’s 1965 farce. First-time Director Annabelle York, alongside Assistant Director Ella Pound, expertly orchestrates the chaos, building to a satisfying end. The show opens in total darkness, and it’s only once the power goes that the stage is lit, revealing every excruciating detail of this middle-class nightmare.

The cast give admirable performances, and it’s surprising to discover that several of them haven’t acted before. Oscar Ings is excellent as Brindsley, possessing a manic Basil Fawlty streak, while Sophie Kean is equally good as his fiancée, Carol, with perfectly nuanced snobbery. Pieter Durman’s eccentric Miss Furnival, played with energetic gusto, is delightful, as is Carol’s father, Colonel Melkett, whom Harry Camp gives strong characterisation. Isabella Yerassimou plays their chummy neighbour Helen with panache, while Artemas Nicoll Cowley is memorable with expert timing and delivery as the electrician Schuppanzigh. Completing the ensemble is Simrhan Khetani, as Brindsley’s ex-girlfriend, Clea, gleefully played with mischief and sympathy.

Despite the cast’s size, York has clearly devoted time to crafting their performances; hesitation is imperceptible, their collective energy buoying them along, and they cope well if things diverge. The stage can get busy, but is managed well, and nobody seems disengaged, each getting their moment to shine.

Design choices (Francesca Weeks, Sophie Kean, Sophia Bor) make a virtue of Girton’s Old Hall, using it to evoke the Kensington flat, creating the perfect petri dish for disaster. The stage is crammed so not an inch feels wasted, while leaving room for the physical comedy. For a production where light, sound and their absences are so important, Archie Breare shrewdly judges that less is more, a subtle but impactful decision.

Big laughs came from physical comedy and mannerisms, plus some excellent slapstick, with a particularly fantastic set piece where Brindsley replaces the stolen furniture. For those determined to gripe (one audience member muttered ‘nobody moves like that in the dark’), York takes shameless artistic licence for comic effect, and the result is riotous fun. Everybody has a great time, cast, crew and audience alike.

Although some finer points get lost, it’s predominantly due to laughter drowning out key lines and funny details (such as the electrician singing ‘Let it Shine’), and what little it loses is more than compensated by the cast’s exuberance. I imagine, if you know anything about Girton, it’s that it’s distant, and it’s a real shame that geography means this play might not draw the numbers it deserves (the audience being primarily Girtonian when I saw it). GADS has successfully put on an accomplished and well-received production that bodes well for the future. In its best moments, it’s joyous.