Evening Standard - August 30th, 2003
Internet farce looks like a dot.bomb but it's brilliant
A ribald Ray Cooney farce about internet dating starring Russ Abbot, Eric Sykes and Robert Daws hit the West End running last night. It was a sequel to RUN FOR YOUR WIFE which rampaged through theatreland in the Eighties. As an attempt to repeat that success, it had dot. Bomb written all over it. But in actual fact, this is so painful, it’s brilliant.
Cooney’s story of a south London bigamist who threatens to be exposed when his son and daughter by different marriages hook up on the internet, is a Rubik’s cube of interlocking chaos. Not are there any sacred cows for pre-political correctness – not even the excruciating German and Chinese parodies which feature in the course of the two hour domestic debacle. There’s even a running gay gag which isn’t exactly homophobic, but which does encourage the most prurient sniggering.
But the best thing about Cooney’s farce is the unbelievable staging which runs the action of the twice-married cabbie in both his homes simultaneously. Douglas Heap’s luridly tacky design is almost as unbearable to look at as the action is dizzying to watch. In shades of sickly green, sky blue and bright yellow, there are no less than eight doors, the constant banging of which threatens not just to bring down the stage, but the whole house with it.
Robert Daws from TV’s Outside Edge and Roger Roger plays the affable bigamist who ties himself in reef knots trying to prevent his son and daughter meeting. Hurtling on and off stage, Daws works up a Niagara of anxious sweat disguising himself with snorkelling equipment, rolling himself in a carpet, pulling yoga poses behind the sofa and belting between his marital homes.
Although Daws is the ostensible leading man, the irrepressible Russ Abbot gets more stage time and finds himself on familiar ground as the lodger “Uncle Stan” in the madhouse of Daws’s Wimbledon home. From the first moment he gives the loony roll of his eyeballs, you know you’re in the hands of an old pro who doesn’t need to learn new tricks. His enthusiasm for Cooney’s slapstick is then matched only by his physical fearlessness.
But if Abbot is brave, the septuagenarian Eric Sykes is positively heroic as he vaults about on his Zimmer frame. Sykes plays Abbot’s senile Dad whom Abbot is supposed to be taking to Felixstowe, but who shows up at Daws’s home instead – mistaking it for a seaside hotel. He may not have the best lines, but Sykes is extraordinarily game, with the presence of a veteran and the energy of a spring chicken.
Helen Gill and Carol Hawkins as contrasting health-food and cholesterol-food housewives are more or less the stooges of the piece, but ensure Daws and Abbot get their long awaited come-uppance. Meanwhile, William Harry’s bouncy son gets cringingly mistaken for a rent boy servicing Russ Abbot. Harry is also led to believe that Beccy Armory’s sparky daughter is blind, as Cooney continues to sail right up close to the wind of political correctness.
In the second half, the show’s energy flags, grows repetitious and is finally exhausting. But if you lurch out shattered on to the Strand after, it’s worth sparing a thought for an ageing cast who must do it all over again tomorrow.