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You know exactly what you are in for when the self-professed ‘political sex farce’ In the Club provides a hotel suite crammed with pink latex dildos, fluffy handcuffs, a masturbatory device unwittingly grasped by a be-robed Polish bishop, Jiffy bags of explosive and not-so-explosive material, glasses of iced water for dangling the lead actor’s testicles in (to increase his sperm count of course) and more ‘cod’ European accents than an ‘Allo ‘Allo convention in Scarborough. Yes, this is British farce from the Brian Rix/Ray Cooney school of comedy. Not Whitehall but Strasbourg, as a British socialist MEP drops his trousers and stumbles in and out of various bedrooms, chased by sex-crazed French hussies and baby-crazed feminist girlfriends, only to find true love in the end.
Richard Bean appears to have written what is best described as an homage, a loving pastiche, of these 60s and 70s farces. Bang up-to-date in its mock Europhobia, stereotypes career on and off stage, abusing the Belgians and the French and the Germans in the audience, with none-too-subtle swipes at Turkish attempts to join the Union and the corrupt practices of an Islamic government intent on masking their human-rights abuses behind a veneer of benign inclusivity. The trouble is, this farce never quite lifts off the ground. It is certainly witty and at times intelligent, but there is a sense of knowing smugness which, inevitably, will lead to a transient specificity to its humour which, in years to come, will be as impenetrable to future generations as it was to the young Belgian couple sitting next to me.
Still, there are some very professional performances from an excellent cast who embrace the Viz schoolboy comic-book humour with great skill. James Fleet is the hapless Euro MP Philip Wardrobe, a lazy toff who likes bossing people about and can fiddle the Euro-expenses to his advantage. It is Wardrobe who is accepting the bribe of a Million Euros to further the Turkish cause. Fleet has mastered the upper-crust galumphing hero and Wardrobe is custom written for his comic skills.
Fleet is assisted by Sian Brooke who plays his PA, Sasha, an Eastern European illegal immigrant who adds a touch of sanity and morality to the proceedings. Sasha can adapt like none of the characters in the play to the situations that arise. Brooke is sincere, funny, and eminently watchable.
Wardrobe is chased by Anna Francolini’s foxy Beatrice Renard, a French MEP who is willing to change hair colour to accommodate her paramour’s apparent predilections, while Carla Mendonca struts her womanly stuff as Nicola Daws, the strong and purposeful girlfriend whose biological clock is ticking so loud it almost drowns the action. Her change of hair colour from blonde to brunette completes the opportunities for mistaken identity.
Finally, Wardrobe accommodates an old buddy in his hotel room, one for whom the Strasbourg gravy train smothers an enormous helping of Yorkshire pudding. Eddie Fredericks is played by Richard Moore as a cross between Jimmy Durante and Geoff Boycott, whose Yorkshire constituency prefers a sandwich and flask approach to European travelling. Moore blusters and rants through the play, ignoring the linguistic diversity of those around him. This is self-parody taken to extremis and, occasionally, Eddie’s remarks are the funniest in the play.
Jonathan Fensom’s Strasbourg Continental Hotel design is pleasing to the eye and when the action slows there are several design home-improvement tips to keep one occupied. David Grindley’s direction remains faithful to the play’s farcical roots. Trousers drop on cue, bombs explode offstage, and doors fly open and shut to reveal dressing-gown clad ladies hot for the latest instalment of sex. For those who like their humour broad, parochial, laddishly rude and stereotypical, this play cannot fail to amuse.
Kevin Quarmby © 2007
Originally published on R&V 06-08-07
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