I’m a great fan of the 1920s. Ok, I’m not old enough to remember them but thanks to books like the Jeeves and Wooster series, I do feel that I know the era pretty well. I’m also a fan of farce as a theatrical genre and a combination of both seemed too good to miss. So off I toottled to the Drayton Arms to see a performance of Ben Travers’ quintessentially English farce Thark.
At the home of Sir Hector Benbow (Mathijs Swarte) his butler Hook (Daniel Casper) has just received some news. He has become a father – admittedly of a girl but he can cope with that. As he tries to head off to go and see his wife and child, he gives instructions to Warner (Sophia Lorenti) the maid as to what to do when a female visitor arrives. Sir Hector is out at the races with his nephew Ronny (Robin Blell) while his wife Lady Benbow (Charlotte Vassell) is away, so it is up to the servants to ensure that Sir Hector’s guest gets the right message and meets him for a liaison later that event. Unfortunately, nobody knows the girl’s name – Cherry Buck (Isabella Hayward) – and so the message is passed not only to Cherry but also to Mrs Frush (Ellie Gill) who, along with her son Lionel (Alexander Hopwood) are trying to get hold of Sir Hector and complain about the house he has recently sold them. The house – Thark by name – was formerly the property of Sir Hector’s ward, and Ronny’s girlfriend, Kitty (Natalla Lewis), and is, much to Mrs Frush’s horror haunted. Sir Hector and his entourage decide to set off to Thark to debunk the whole ghost nonsense and secure the sale.
Can Mrs Frush be placated? Will Sir Hector manage to get his liaison dangereuse without his wife finding out? Will Ronny and Kitty’s romance be able to survive the traumers they are about to face? Just how dodgy is Mrs Jones, the Housekeeper at Thark and who is the mysterious Mr Whittle (Kieran Slade) hanging round the property. Finally, will Hook get to see his baby daughter before the ghostly shenanigans really get into their stride?
A good farce requires various elements, the most important of which are doors. People need to come in and go out in rapid succession, preferably through different doors, and Granville Saxton’s set does that very well. Not only does it have lots of doors, which slam effectively, but the furniture is very in keeping with the period and the changeover in act II from dining room to bedroom is brilliantly done with both rooms looking really good. Matching the set are the really splendid costumes by Bryony J Thompson. They all looked very period appropriate with the ladies, particularly Isabella Hayward’s dinner dress, looking particularly stunning.
The story itself is a pretty standard farce with messages going to the wrong people and being misinterpreted, very stupid men believing they can get away with anything, and general mayhem. It is very much of the period. Women are not really respected that much – though they are definitely feared – and that attitude is perfectly summed up by Hook’s reaction to the news he has a new daughter. But, overall, it still works. You can’t sit there and compare the actions of these people with what is acceptable today, but if you put yourself back in the time of the flapper and the playboy, it makes sense.
Director Matthew Parker has assembled a very strong cast with a couple of real stand-out performers. Robin Blell was one. An actor with perfect comic timing and a wonderfully expressive face and body that transmits so much across the footlights, Robin was brilliant as young Ronny. Equally I really liked Isabella Hayward’s Cherry Buck. Yes, the character is a rather a stereotypical good time girl that pretends she is all virtuous but Isabella makes her more a real three dimensional person able to hold her own with any of her, so called, social betters.
Overall, Thark was thoroughly enjoyable. My one criticism was the ending, which seemed to just turn up, taking some of the audience by surprise. However any show that includes a Beyoncé dance break, certainly has something going for it. The pace is fast and the highly talented cast do a wonderful job of keeping everything moving smoothly. There are some really deft touches in the action that keep the audience on their toes – keep an eye on the whisky glasses and soda syphon in Act I – and ensures the attention never flags. All in all, if you fancy a break from worrying about Christmas, treat yourself and the family to a trip to Thark and sit back, relax and enjoy a fun and highly entertaining evening out.
Review by Terry Eastham
“Ghosts – bunkum! Have you ever met anyone who’s seen a ghost?”
“No; but I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t met someone who has…”
London, 1927. The rebellious twenties are roaring right outside Sir Hector Benbow’s Mayfair window. All he wants to do is to take Cherry, a ‘good looker’, out for a spot of dinner. His saucy liaison is scuppered when Lady Benbow and his ward Kitty arrive home unexpectedly. What’s more, there are reports that Thark – the family home – is haunted! Hector, his plucky nephew Ronny, and the rest of the family set out to investigate. Will Thark live up to its spine-chilling reputation?
Fast-paced, fruity and full of flappers, Ben Travers’ Thark is a hilarious classic British farce combining sparkling witticisms and bold physical comedy with glamour, naughty romps and a hint of gothic spookery!
This sparkling new production is directed by Off West End Award winning director Matthew Parker.
Cast: Robin Blell, Daniel Caspar, Ellie Gill, Alexander Hopwood, Natalia Lewis, Sophia Lorenti, Kieran Slade, Mathijs Swarte, Charlotte Vassell and Isabella Hayward.
Directed by: Matthew Parker
Booking to 6th January 2018
Draytron Arms Theatre