Mail on Sunday - September 2nd, 2003
Fun in the farce lane
It’s lowbrow, but hard to beat.
As a student and a bicyclist going through a highbrow phase, I steered clear of Ray Cooney’s RUN FOR YOUR WIFE in 1983.
I couldn’t imagine that a farce about a cabbie with one wife in Wimbledon and another four minutes down the road in Streatham would amuse me.
It ran for years and now, too late, I’m sorry, because I was obviously quite mistaken. The sequel CAUGHT IN THE NET which opened this week at the Vaudeville, had my mascara running down my cheeks and staining my white linen trousers.
For sheer escapism (albeit quintessentially lowbrow) this show is hard to beat.
Ray Cooney, who also directs, is still one of the most celebrated contemporary exponents of the when-did-you-last-see-your-trousers? genre. Two decades on, his taxi driver, John Smith, now has a wife, Mary and a daughter, Vicki, in Wimbledon, and a wife, Barbara, and a son, Gavin, in Streatham.
Like all good farces, success is a matter of timing, but the pace of life, real and dramatic, is faster now than it was in 1983 thanks to the internet, e-mail and mobile phones, which Cooney cleverly integrates into his high-speed, high-tech, high-stress plot.
The teenage offspring of John Smith have met by chance in an internet chat-room and discovered that they both have a dad named John Lawrence Smith, and guess what, both dads drive cabs. They are so excited at having so much in common that they arrange to meet.
For the next two hours, an increasingly manic John Smith (Robert Daws) attempts to keep his households apart.
At its climatic craziest, John dons goggles and a snorkel and pretends to be giving swimming lessons in the sitting room. It gets steadily more demented when John’s loyal lodger Stanley (Russ Abbot), who should be taking his senile old dad on holiday to Felixstowe, agrees to have a major sexual problem and a penchant for rent boys to help John save his marriages.
Ingeniously constructed and staged garishly with the blue-walled Smiths alongside the yellow-walled Smiths, both sharing a green sitting room (and both households oblivious of the other), there are eight doors to open, slam, lock and hide behind.
Frantically good fun, it’s also massively politically incorrect (sexist, ageist, mildly homophobic and liberally sprinkled with jokes about blindness and death) and performed by a cast able to change tack in split seconds.
Eric Sykes and his Zimmer frame perform the most brilliantly choreographed pas de, er, six of all time, in search of a beach in a Wimbledon villa, in a farce which only runs out of steam in its denouement when, frankly, I too was exhausted.