This very British farce surrounds an assistant bank manager, Peter Hunter, who lives above his bank with his new bride Frances. When Frances innocently sends a mail order off for some Scandinavian glassware, what comes back is Scandinavian pornography. The two, along with the bank’s frantic chief cashier Brian Runnicles, must decide what to do with the veritable floods of pornography, photographs, books, films and eventually girls that threaten to engulf this happy couple. The matter is considerably complicated by the presence of Eleanor (Peter’s mother), Mr. Bromhead (his boss), Mr. Needham (a visiting bank inspector), and Vernon Paul (a police superintendent).
It first appeared in London’s West End in 1971, and the nature of the story really requires that it remain set in a more innocent, pre-internet era. The cynics amongst us would argue that this makes it dated and old-fashioned and therefore pointless and irrelevant in today’s society, but in fact it is those dated, old-fashioned qualities which give it its charm and, indeed, much of its humour. It is very refreshing indeed, as an audience member, to be able to allow yourself a couple of hours of simple, innocent entertainment.
It’s your typical farce, this one: lots of doors, and lots of characters to keep coming in and out of them, all in various states of undress as the play progresses. Director Gareth Hunter has assembled a fine cast of North-East actors to portray these characters. Farce requires skill, timing, and superb ensemble playing, and this company displays an abundance of all three. Dolores Poretta-Brown gives a virtuoso performance as the unwelcome, interfering matriarch, and as her would-be suitor Mr Bromhead, David Cooke is assured and convincing. I was very impressed too by James De Launch Hay as Brian Runnicles (a part originated in the West End by Michael Crawford, shortly before inventing a similar character for Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em). He managed expertly to maintain two hours of increasing panic and despair, without it ever going too over-the-top.
The entire cast are clearly having a ball on stage, ably assisted by Hunter who directs the play at a cracking pace. This show, by Ion Productions, is well worth seeing. And if this is anything to go by, their September productions of Calendar Girls and ‘Allo ‘Allo (also at the Customs House) will be worth a look too.