Daily Telegraph - November 5th, 2005
The Time Traveller's Strife
Ray Cooney has long reminded me of Arnold Bennett’s The Card. Ever since he made his stage debut almost 60 years ago, he has been “identified with the great cause of cheering us all up”.
He is, of course, best known for his farce, a trade he learned with Brian Rix in the 1950s and which he has been practising with conspicuous success ever since. The world would be a poorer place without such meticulously crafted laughter-machines as Run For Your Wife and Two into One.
But as far as I can ascertain, this is his first shot at writing the book for a musical - and highly entertaining, if more than a touch derivative, it proves too.
The action begins in Guildford in 2005, where our hero, Steven Tancred, is a young solicitor in the firm of Pilsworth and Pilsworth. He’s engaged to the boss’s daughter, and his career prospects would seem just dandy but for three things: he’s a smoker, and his boss hates smoking; the firm is representing a dodgy property developer who wants to chuck a sweet little old lady out of her cottage to make way for a shopping centre and his fiancé is a screeching , sexually domineering bossy-boots.
Initially, the show comes over as a satire on office life and politics, reminiscent of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. But when Steven goes to a hypnotherapist to quit smoking he regresses to a previous life. Suddenly, the action flashes back to Chicago in 1929, where Steven discovers that he once worked as a getaway driver for the Bugs Moran gang. More dangerously still, his 1929 alter ego falls in love with Bugs’s broad, the sweet, red-haired Ruby. The St. Valentine’s Day massacre looms.
Suddenly, we are in the territory of Some Like it Hot, Guys and Dolls and classic gangster movies. And frankly it can’t stand the comparison. But it provides enjoyable, undemanding entertainment nevertheless, with the action constantly switching between time zones as Steven keeps falling into hypnotic trances and reverting to his previous life in Chicago.
The story is told with Cooney’s usual dexterity and good humour, while Chris Walker…has come up with a witty tuneful score, strongly influenced by ragtime and jazz. It includes several numbers that linger in the memory – always the acid test – including a particularly haunting love duet, One of Those Moments.
Cooney directs his own show with brio, and the principals are surrounded by a big ensemble of third-year students from the Guildford School of Acting, so the stage is impressively full.
Jody Crosier proves highly engaging as the hero with the double identity, though it seems ridiculous that this chronic-smoker is never seen with a cigarette. Jo Gibb is a perky, gamine delight as the love interest and there is a fabulous comic turn from the veteran Anne Rogers as the sweet old lady. She sings and dances up a storm with a gang of butch construction workers during the Gene Kellyish In the Rain, dressed in yellow wellingtons and a sou’wester, and gamely flashing her bloomers. Frankly, I haven’t seen anything so camp since the Village People performed YMCA.