"Plunder"

The Greenwich Theatre

In one of our occasional moments of “use it or lose it,” we decided to support our local theatre last night. Greenwich Theatre has had its ups and downs over the years and sometimes the only time people actually seem to notice it is when it’s on the skids.

We weren’t too sure about it – when the only review a play can find to advertise it seems to be some very carefully chosen words from the News Shopper, you have to think twice about something, but we went anyway.

And I have to say it was a good production. Of a bad play, that is. The cast had obviously realised back at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury that the paucity of actual gags in it meant that they’d have to make up for it in dumbshow, mugging and extra business, and they worked overtime to squeeze every last snigger possible out of it, which was sadly still not enough to guarantee a smile ever ten minutes or so.

My biggest question was what on earth the producer was thinking of reviving this museum piece in the first place. Ben Travers is one of the most famous Farcemongers of the Twentieth Century, but this is really not his finest hour. He seems to have been having some crisis of genre – or, as one companion suggested, he had been writing three different plays, suddenly had a deadline and cobbled them all together to make one unfeasible concoction of police procedural, Agatha Christie whodunnit and parlour drama. The farce was added afterwards, with a few people coming in and out of doors via the subtle means of one character saying to another “you wait outside which I’ll tell someone a bit of important plot in front of the audience and, oh – take him with you.”

Farce is light, fluffy nonsense. This is laboured, dated and doesn’t actually make sense – whatever else farce is, it HAS to at least be logical. At one point in this, a character actually exits through the front door then reappears seconds later coming downstairs…

There was a moment in Act II where it did look like things were looking up where the usual dead-of-night-underhand-business-in-and-out-of-doors-in-a-country-house began. It lasted about five minutes before we were treated to a long scene “back at the Yard” where two plods laboured their way through a bunch of clues we already knew.

I repeat this is a good production. The set was fresh and funky, the acting really very good considering the material, but nothing was going to save this from creaking worse than the Cutty Sark.

My current theory is that the producer went to the theatre as a small boy and saw this play. In the olden days, apparently, people found it hilarious (as, indeed, we are informed, preview audiences at The Watermill thought it too) and possibly he has grown old remembering that first great experience that made him want to Go Into Theatre. It had always been his dream to revive such a masterpiece – he would know he had “made it” when he brought his own production of it to the stage.

Dear oh Dear. I don’t blame Greenwich Theatre for having booked this. The pre-publicity is excellent – good posters and strong flyers and visuals. The design is great and the information they would have been sent was – well – enough to make me want to go. I don’t blame the actors either – they did sterling work. But really. Material like this should be consigned to a single bound volume in the ‘restricted’ section of the British Library. In the hands of an amateur cast it could be lethal.

If you want to see a farce, I hear Boeing Boeing is excellent. If you fancy something with a period flavour I can’t recommend highly enough the Criterion’s superb The 39 Steps.

In the meanwhile, I will continue to support Greenwich Theatre. See my review of Sleeping Beauty for an example of what they can come up with, and home grown, too. I’m going to try to get to see the rest of the productions this season – and I hope you will too. Part of the charm of theatre is that you never know what you’re going to get…


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