Sunday, 3 May 2009

Rookery Nook - Menier Chocolate Factory

Rookery Nook by Ben Travers
Director: Terry Johnson
Reviewer: Leon Trayman

Terry Johnson’s revival of Ben Travers’ ‘Rookery Nook’ at The Menier Chocolate Factory stars Neil Stuke as the newlywed Gerald Popkiss. Gerald arrives late at night at Rookery Nook Cottage, having left his new wife and mother-in-law behind, when the latter is taken ill. Upon arrival, he is greeted by Lynda Baron’s stoic Mrs Leverett, who is anxious to get home and his formidable sister-in-law Gertrude Twine - played with aplomb by Sarah Woodward.

Stuke gives a superb performance, complete with outstanding physical and linguistic comic timing, alongside the magnificent Edward Baker-Duly, who’s performance of the bounder and cad, Clive Popkiss, is reminiscent of Lesley Phillips in his heyday! The comedy foil for the two Popkiss cousins is Harold Twine, the downtrodden, hen-pecked, sweaty brother-in-law of Stuke’s character, played expertly by Mark Hadfield, who makes every member of the audience instantly warm to his character’s nervous charm and almost steals the show!

Kellie Shirley’s Rhoda turns up at Rookery Nook, in pink silk pyjamas, soaked to the knee, having fled from her intimidating stepfather Putz, played with ferocity by Nick Brimble, and the plot continues to thicken… Alan Thompson (who could easily be taken for Reginald Owen’s Admiral Boom in Disney’s Mary Poppins) gives an amorous and vain Admiral Juddy and Victoria Yeates’s naughty country bumpkin Poppy Dickey is simply delightful.

The set and costume design by Tim Shortall is beautiful, making the cast and space look both gorgeous and authentic in their 1920s suits, flapper dresses and plus fours. Terry Johnson’s comedic direction is excellent; choreographing the pratfalls, prop business, opening, closing, and slamming of the six doors onstage, as well as the near misses caused by the stairs that – much like those in Fawlty Towers – seem to go the wrong way, or have a few too many steps!
I am a great fan of farce, and although Travers’ 1926 play very much sticks to the expected structure, and there are no big surprises, there is a palpable sense of inevitability, that at moments, had me holding my breath, shifting in my seat, and giggling nervously. The audience ranged from 12 to approx 80 years of age and everyone roared with laughter throughout, making this the ideal show to bring the whole family to. In fact, one of the younger members of the audience could hardly stay sitting with anticipation and collapsed in a heap of hysterics on several occasions.

If you like good, old-fashioned theatre, and bemoan the loss of the Whitehall farce (theatrical that is…) then head over the river to The Menier to see this fine ensemble cast in Rookery Nook.

Rookery Nook runs at the Menier until Sat June 20th
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