NODA Review - Heatstroke by Eric Chappell
This amiable farce set in Spain - written by Eric Chappell, of 'Rising Damp' fame - was just the ticket to put the Todmorden audience in a holiday mood. Confused identities, mixed-up luggage, a stolen fortune (and a particularly cheeky snake) made comical confusion the order of the day. The two couples who oughtn't to have been at the Spanish villa - and certainly not at the same time - find themselves caught up in a web of intrigue with, if not quite hilarious, at least mildly amusing consequences. First time director John Tattersall brought an engagingly fresh and assured production to the stage.
The first thing of note to hit the audience at curtain up was the superb set. A really well constructed Spanish villa interior was the latest in a long line of Hippodrome scenery triumphs. The cyclorama (bedsheet?!) at the back could have done with a bit of smoothing out however: initially I thought the blue-lit backcloth was representing a nearby whitewashed Spanish wall and rather liked the shimmering Mediterranean light bouncing off it. I think it was supposed to represent the sky itself however and in that case, it definitely needed a few of the creases knocking out of it. A very minor point I know and it certainly didn't detract from the rest of the set which was a minor marvel: well made, well dressed and with all the little touches which make for a thoughtful and well-planned staging. The lighting helped to create the bright Spanish sunshine to really round off a warm, Mediterranean feel on stage.
Matthew Parker and Rachel Doyle Richards played Sam and Fay Spencer, the couple who have sneaked an unauthorised stay at the villa. Matthew brought a long-suffering languor to the role and his disappointed, world-weary take on the character was very well judged, particularly when we see Sam thinking he can see a lifeline in the stolen fortune which has made its way into the holdall mistakenly picked up from the airport. Matthew's gentle, underplayed and considered take on the character brought out the humour of the role without veering over into farcical breathlessness and excelled in conjuring up Sam's petty frustrations. Rachel also brought a grounded reality to her character and gave a similarly believable interpretation of the bewildered holidaymaker caught up in events, giving a very strong performance indeed: no mean feat in flippers, face mask and snorkel!
Unexpectedly arriving on the scene to cause further confusion, ham actor Howard Booth and his bit on the side, Dodie, were played by Richard Holley and Panama Sears. Panama brought a real spark of life and energy to the stage and clearly had the measure of her low-rent Casanova of a boyfriend, Howard. Richard Holley gave a good turn as the pompous actor; arrogant, stilted and ridiculous in equal measure. Adding to the holdall melee, Michael Gill as Raynor muddied the waters even more as it appears that he is the criminal character behind the stolen money in the holdall and is rather keen to get it back again. Michael played the role rather cleverly as it transpires that everyone has got the wrong end of the stick; his performance was very well judged as the brooding Raynor turns out to be not quite all we had been led to expect. The real villain of the piece, Moon, was played with dark menace by Tom Jennings in the grand finale as all the twisting threads tied themselves together.
Some very solid performances - and not a weak link in the cast - helped to lift this gently comical piece into an entertaining evening at the Hippodrome. I did feel on occasion that the pace of the comedy could have been a little slicker, particularly at the start of the show, as it took a while for the farcical narrative to really get going. Perhaps the delivery of some dialogue was a little ponderous too and as a result, a few of the more amusing exchanges didn't come over in quite the way they should.
That said however, I did enjoy the way the production eschewed the stereotypical 'dashing around' school of farce; breathlessly gabbling through lines at fever pitch as if every utterance was wildly hilarious and the jeopardy the characters find themselves in is of crazily comical importance. No dropping trousers or flapping doors and nobody hiding in a cupboard or under the bed, 'Heatstroke' made do with a very naughty snake and some polished performances. As always with a Todmorden production, the standard was very high and it came as a pleasant change to see a play which wasn't a stage adaptation of a TV sitcom! My thanks as always go to all at the Hippodrome for a warm welcome and congratulations on yet another excellent production.