May 2013 – Out of Order

Reviewed by Peter Steptoe

Parlour Players gave a master class as farceurs in Ray Cooney’s ‘Out of Order’. Any criticism relates entirely to the play. The first half in setting the scene was excellent and the performance of John Shepherd as Richard Willey MP, a person without any redeeming qualities and yet making us continue to like him, superb. He had booked a room at the Westminster hotel to liaise with a secretary for the opposition, who was the attractive Jane Worthington (Katie Eynon). She was of course married to the tall, broad-shouldered Ronnie (Simon Kelly) personifying the suspicious husband.
The dead body was inertly performed by Gordon Drayson, whose supposed demise was caused by the ever-descending window. He does eventually come to life as the private eye but suffers from amnesia. The hotel bedroom door kept opening at inopportune moments to admit the Manager, pompously played by Phil Wright, Room Service by a parsimonious Jim Gibbons and the Chambermaid, Maria (Naomi Swift), with foreign accent.
George Pigden (Michael Cooke) as the M.P.’s Private Secretary was summoned to assist and, acting as an unmarried nervous wreck with an ailing Mother, provided many laughs. Jane Swale, as his Mother’s nurse, made a late aggressive appearance as did Willey’s wife, the languorous Felicity Abbott.
The second half provided many laughs but Ray Cooney seemed to struggle a little.  Nevertheless, congratulations to the director, Theo Spring.


Reviewed by Simon Vines

The name Ray Cooney, rather unfairly, can muster connotations of rather hackneyed material. The reality, however, is that, at his best he delivers pure farce, every bit as crafted as an episode of Fawlty Towers. The text just requires an accomplished production and a brilliant cast to unlock the laughs – all of which the Parlour Players achieved in glorious style with their latest offering – Cooney’s “Out of Order”.

At curtain-up the exquisite set (as it so often does at Parlour Player productions) drew a worthy round of applause: the perfect wallpaper to infer its hotel bedroom setting and its three doors placed with precision to capitalise on the essential farce routines of exits and entrances. Add to that a sash window that displayed the sort of comic timing many a comedian would kill for.

Amidst the stalwart regulars, this production introduced two new members: Katie Eynon as Jane Worthington and Simon Kelly as her jealous husband. With rock solid comic performances from both, I hope we will see much more of these two in future productions. Taking on the role of a dead body might not be what every actor thinks their agent should be finding them, but in this play it’s a gift of a part for a an excellent physical comedian; Gordon Drayson on his long-overdue return to the P.P.s had more than a dash of Lee Evans in his performance. A great performer will squeeze every laugh out of the smallest role and while Naomi Swift did not have the largest part as the Chambermaid, Maria, she certainly played it for all it was worth. Phil Wright hit just the right note with his eyebrow-raising. pushed-to-the-limit hotel Manager and Jim Gibbons very nearly stole the show with his brilliant porter/waiter, Harold – who brought to mind Ronnie Barker with his hilarious characterisation and timing.

We waited until the second half to meet Pamela, the wife of the MP Richard Willey and the daunting Nurse Gladys. Felicity Abbot smouldered superbly as the former, whilst we were not disappointed (as we never are) by the comic perfection of Jane Swale as Gladys, who surely ranks with Tommy Cooper and Eric Morecambe as someone who simply has to step on the stage to set an audience laughing.

At heart the play revolves around two central performances and both of these were suitably sublime. John Shepherd shone as the beleaguered MP Richard Willey – reminiscent of the late, great Ken Campbell. His Private Secretary was played by Michael Cooke – a tour de force of perfect timing and comic energy. Michael flows effortlessly between comic and serious roles – but this was quite possibly his finest yet for the Parlour Players,

The set aside, it was clear from the smooth flow and frenetic pace of the play that much hard work had gone on – and was going on – from all involved back stage. And finally, it is all-too-rarely that we are treated to the directorial skills of Theo Spring, but I am delighted to say that, with “Out of Order”, she has returned with a vengeance. If I had stepped out of the door at the end of the ply and found myself in Shaftesbury Avenue, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.