"Clowning overshadows the situational comedy"
by Matthew Partridge for remotegoat on 15/12/17

“Thark”, running at the Drayton Arms Theatre, is a revival of the 1920s farce written by Ben Travers. Thanks to his servants Warner (Sophia Lorenti) and Hook (Daniel Casper), the lecherous Hector Benbow (Mathijs Swarte) accidentally invites both Cherry Buck (Isabella Hayward), and Mrs Frush (Ellie Gill), a woman complaining about Thark, a “haunted” house Hector has sold her, to dinner. To make things worse, Hector’s wife (Charlotte Vassell) also turns up as does Mrs Frush’s son Lionel (Alexander Hopwood). Deceitful as ever, Hector manages to arrange things so that his nephew Ronald Gamble (Robin Biell) takes the blame, to the fury of Gamble’s fiancé (and Hector’s ward) Kitty Stratton (Natalia Lewis). The second half of the play takes places in Thark itself, as Hector and Ronald set out to disprove the haunting.

It’s easy to see why the play was immensely popular at one time, with colourful characters and comedic contrivances. However, it’s also clear why such comedies have fallen out of fashion. While the best farces draw their strength from the comedy inherent in the situations that the characters find themselves in, this play instead relies on a relentless onslaught of one-line gags and clowning, elements that director Matthew Parker has clearly played up. While some of these ‘moments’ occasionally work, most of them end up getting in the way of the wider comedy. Indeed, there is so much clowning that it takes about 20 minutes to work out what is actually going on.

While sections of the audience clearly loved it, a more restrained production that cut away some of the one-liners and dialed down the mannerisms and funny accents would have been paradoxically funnier. Good, but a missed opportunity.

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