From the moment I arrived at Woolpit Village Hall the scene was set for a furore of 1960’s farce, with swinging 60’s tunes to get the audience in the mood for meeting struggling artist Brindsley Miller and his whimsical, quacky debutante girlfriend Carol Melkett.
Black Comedy is incredibly challenging to present in so many ways; the physicality of farces – the entrances, the exits, the doors (and trap doors in this case!) compounded in this particularly spectacular work by Peter Shaffer with the addition of light and dark combined with the farcical furniture swapping shenanigans. While the actors on stage are trapped in darkness the stage is fully lit, allowing the audience to see everything and enjoy a hilarious series of near misses.
Set in Brindsley Miller’s West London flat, Brindsley and current squeeze Carol Melkett await the arrival of Carol’s father, Colonel Melkett and German millionaire deaf art collector, Georg Bamberger who is due to view Brindsley’s sculptures. With an unforeseen powercut in the area, what ensues is unexpected visitations from neighbours, German electricians and former lovers.
The cast were all outstanding with impeccable comic timing and fantastic facial expressions to really portray the surality of the predicament whilst emulating the physicality of behavior when caught in the pitch black of a power cut.
The ‘pitchiness’ of babbling debutant Carol Melkett was superbly acted by Clare Baker, who is to be highly commended for enabling the show to go on after a trap door casualty at the dress rehearsal, proving that the physicality of this play looked effortless to the audience, but was theatrical gymnastics for the cast.
John Lintin was exceptional as Brindsley’s camp neighbour, Harrold Gorringe, who returns early and is kept completely in the dark to Brindsley’s bad behavior and furniture borrowing antics. His gestures were overt enough for comic effect, but subtle enough to retain their sincerity.
Paquita Savill as Clea was just perfect as Brindsley’s on/off lover Clea, with a sleekness around the stage that sought to highlight the ineffectiveness of the bumbling Carol, her father and Brindsley’s neighbours.
The highest praise must be reserved for Gareth Hatton as the endearing, but foppish, Brindsley Miller. The physicality of his performance was incredible, particularly when he returned his neighbour Harold Gorringe’s “borrowed” living room furniture, in its entirety, whilst avoiding the clutches of girlfriend Carol, lover Clea, Carol’s father and tee-total but tipsy elderly neighbor Miss Furnival, of course whilst acting in the dark in full light. Spectacular energy, facial expression with just the right level of exaggerated mime and movement to convince the audience this was all taking place in the dark.
Congratulations to director Paul Gort whose technical perseverance paid off and he has executed an educated, but inexplicably lively, comic edge to this production. In terms of comic timing and pace from the whole cast this play could compete with several professional productions I have had the pleasure to watch.
The set design team deserve high praise indeed for bringing to life a Kensington apartment with multiple rooms, trapdoors and the suggestion of neighboring apartments on a relatively small stage in a village hall setting.
The whole show was exceptionally executed and perfectly timed both theatrically and technically. Well done to everyone involved.
Thank you for a wonderful evening’s entertainment and your kind hospitality.