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Kindly Leave The Stage by John Chapman at The Mary Wallace Theatre

Kindly Leave The StageA relatively brief comedy play, coming in at just under two hours with an interval, Kindly Leave The Stage is an utter hoot. Things start straightforwardly enough, with Madge (Cath Messum), sporting those distinctly unspectacular NHS glasses people wore a generation ago, and Charles (Matt Dennis) sat at a dinner table. But things quickly go awry when it becomes clear that their hosts, Rupert (David Kay) and Sarah (Kate Wilcox) have rowed to the point where they have decided to part company altogether. But there has been some actual extra-marital activity in the dressing rooms between the matinee and the evening performances, and now, at this evening show, with Rupert unable to contain his anger anymore having to share a stage with an actor who has been having an affair with his wife, he veers off script: attempts to continue with the play as published are futile.

Not even Edward Frobisher (Michael Andrew), a veteran of the stage, can salvage the original play, despite a valiant effort. Known for several key roles of various productions in the Shakespeare canon, he adopts the same style of delivery that served him well decades ago, even though he is in a contemporary play. When he criticises Rupert for lack of pathos (the original play long since completely and irrefutably abandoned), the result is a reprise of ‘Act One, Scene One’, with both Rupert and Sarah indulging in melodrama of the highest order. In context, it’s delightful to watch.

Sarah’s mother, Mrs Cullen (Maxina Cornwell), doesn’t take too kindly to Rupert’s frequent putdowns, which stretch beyond the run of the mill mother-in-law jokes. And then there’s Angela (Lynda-Louise Tomlinson), the prompter, who cannot bring the curtain down prematurely because all the stagehands are in a nearby pub and won’t return until just before the interval. The running time of the abandoned play is therefore strictly observed (in both halves), which means an abrupt end to both acts. Absurd, perhaps, but that’s exactly what this play is – absurd. Nurse Brown (Denise Tomlinson), the theatre’s first aider, responds to a call from the stage for a doctor (there is no medical emergency, but ordinarily the curtain falls as soon as such a call is made) but finds herself asked to remain on stage anyway, which – without giving too much away – comes in handy in the second half.

The set is fairly elaborate, a well-decorated front room that remains largely unaltered throughout – the focus is on the conversation. Interestingly, nobody’s accent changes when they cease to be characters in the original play, and I wonder if there might have been even more comedy value if, for instance, someone’s character accent slipped in the early scenes when the original play was still in progress. Proceedings move at a brisk pace, perhaps just a tad too briskly in terms of delivery. Such is the nature of the show that (having not read the script) I had no idea whether someone stumbling over their words was the result of a genuine slip-up or an evident commitment to providing conversation that comes across as naturalistic as possible.

The production doesn’t, because of its sheer comedy value, reach anywhere the depths of something like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But there isn’t a weak link to report in the cast, and the show is riveting as well as full of laugh-out-loud punchlines. To say the fourth wall is ‘broken’ doesn’t quite describe events accurately; ‘destroyed’ would be more apt. Like a good deal at the supermarket, there are two plays for the price of one in this witty and wild production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Sarah and Rupert’s marriage is on the rocks and they have asked their lawyer friends, Charles and Madge, to help with the divorce. All goes well, until real life intervenes and chaos ensues. A brilliant comedy by the author of Not Now, Darling, Move Over Mrs Markham and Are You Being Served?

KINDLY LEAVE THE STAGE
by John Chapman
directed by Scott Tilley
The Mary Wallace Theatre
The Embankment
Twickenham, TW1 3DU
Saturday 27th April to Saturday 4th May 2019
http://www.richmondshakespeare.org.uk/

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