Henry Bell comes of age with Three Farces by John Maddison Morton at The Orange Tree Theatre

We say:

I know that newspapers are, in the end, just newspapers, that journalists are mere human beings and that some of them only just qualify for that categorisation but I still get a kick on those mornings when I open the papers to see the reviews especially if I have any connection to the object of such journalistic scrutiny. 

On Saturday night I went to the press night at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond (see Links in the right hand column) to see their latest production, Three Farces by the now obscure Victorian playwright John Maddison Morton (1811 – 1891) and I laughed – a lot. 

Clive Francis (centre) with Stuart Fox (left) and David Oakes (right)

There are three short plays in this rollicking evening using the talents of a fine cast of six actors, headed by and, dare I say starring, that king of farce, the multi-faceted Mr. Clive Francis, who all appear in multiple roles.

David Oakes

 Slasher and Crasher (1848) which sends up Victorian gung ho spirit with as much charm as it ridicules  the lily-livered young man (David Oakes playing “against character”  – possibly, snigger – but in a performance as brilliant physically as it was in its characterisation) who rather than defend his honour with a duel, rather sensibly prefers to settle down with a nice jar of gooseberry preserve. When all Hell does finally get let loose, then the intimate space that is the Orange Tree is truly electric.

Edward Bennett

Then comes A Most Unwarrantable Intrusion (1849) where the highly enjoyable life of a Victorian patriarch (Clive Francis at his virtuosic best) left alone for the day by his female companions, has to endure the invasion of his peace when his garden fish pond is sought out as a possible watery grave for a neurotic young man who won’t take no for an answer (the charismatic and verbally unstoppable Edward Bennett who is almost certainly a star in the making). This is a two-hander that really should become a part of our  permanent theatrical repertoire and Messrs Francis and Bennett gave it the best possible rebirth. The final farce is Grimshaw, Bagshaw and Bradshaw (1851) which has plenty of those truly farcical ingredients where the whole company of actors are involved in multiple entrances and exits through a variety of different doors whilst getting more and more confused about each others’ identitites. All of this ladies and gentlemen, plus the splendid Mr. Daniel Cheyne, a ginger-haired ukelele playing minstrel who acts as our sardonic host for the evening. So yes, I laughed – a lot.

All of this was reason enough for the wolf to take a trip up to London last Saturday night but it became truly unmissable because it was a major breakthrough moment for the three farces’ director, my close relative, friend, and wolf cub, Mr Henry Bell. Having watched him, literally, grow into a theatre director over a long period of time, it was a seminal moment to see him “come of age.” None of this came without a lot of hard work as well as talent going back to those hugely ambitious student productions of Waiting For Godot and Shakespeare’s epicly gory, Titus Andronicus. A well-meaning and nervously gushy woman cooed that I must be “very proud” and others have said this too. I resist the word – pride is after all a deadly sin – because pride implies that I had a stack in Henry Bell’s success. I have said to these well-wishers, no I don’t feel proud, I feel an enormous amount of pleasure. Not that this review is in any way biased. Henry, well done indeed. 

Henry Bell
I got a great deal of extra pleasure too when I opened those newspapers – this is what the reviewers said:

They say:

“Here’s a real collector’s item, and a fascinating farcical evening: A programme notes suggest a foretaste here of the Goons and Monty Python, and there’s certainly a pronounced strain of verbal lunacy and unbuttoned silliness in Henry Bell’s lively production. But there’s a good old-fashioned music hall quality here, too….It’s a lost world brought vividly to life.” Michael Coveney What’s On Stage
“For all the charm of the musical interludes, I wish the Orange Tree had presented the three pieces as a continuous, breakneck event. But I have no other qualms about Henry Bell’s adroit production, which confirms why the Victorians loved farce” Michael Billington The Guardian.
Bell’s production sweeps the audience up in cheerful bonhomie from its opening moments, in which Daniel Cheyne arrives on stage (complete with ukulele) to welcome us to this “veritable smorgasbord of farcical frolickings”….Bell’s fluid, well-paced production avoids the trap of becoming too frenetic or strained, even as it embraces the self-conscious artifice and theatricality of the plays, and their glorious silliness. This is a thoroughly charming and enjoyable evening to convert even the farce adverse”. Boycotting Trends
“Bell’s direction is brisk and bright, and the cast sparkles as they juggle intricate wordplay with manic stage business. You can’t escape the feeling that none of it matters much, but it’s nicely done.” Sam Marlowe The Times

My novel, Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love, was published  on 31 October 2013. It is the story of a young fogey living in Brighton in 1967 who has a lot to learn when the flowering hippie counter culture changes him and the world around him.

It is now available as a paperback or on Kindle (go to your region’s Amazon site for Kindle orders)

You can order the book from the publishers, Ward Wood Publishing:
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