Pros: This light-hearted farce is just what you need to take your mind away from pre-holiday stress.
Cons: The cast are not evenly matched, and the storyline isn’t particularly inspired.
A cold winter evening is the perfect time to see a light-hearted bit of twenties comedy, especially when it’s taking place at a lovely pub theatre such as The Drayton Arms. The odd name of the play in question, Thark, refers to the country house that our leading man Hector Benbow has sold to Mrs Frush, a sale that she is now keen to undo because the house is haunted. We only found this out at the end of the first act, which was mostly taken up with Hector trying to hide from his wife the fact that he’s trying to start an affair. This is usually accomplished by blaming his nephew, Ronny, and his long-suffering butler, Hook, for everything that goes wrong. The second act, which takes place in the haunted house in question, is also largely given over to Hector’s machinations, the supposed ghosts merely serving as an excuse for various characters to crawl into bed with people who are not their significant others. In other words, it’s exactly what you would expect from a 1920s English country house farce.
I can see what playwright Ben Travers had in mind with this, but unfortunately Thark pans out as a rather less successful version of Jeeves and Wooster, the popular stories by Travers’ contemporary P.G. Wodehouse. The story was predictable; a really good farce can fool you into thinking you know exactly where it’s going, only to pull the rug out from under you at the last minute. That was, sadly, not the case here, with a fairly unsubstantial storyline. There were also some unfortunate instances of period (read: sexist) humour, some of which felt particularly off-colour in the current climate. I understand that this was par for the course in 1927, but the jokes Hector makes about trying to invite shop assistant Cherry out to dinner (along the lines of, ‘well she said no but women always say no when they actually mean yes’) made me feel quite queasy, and could have easily been cut. Other jokes are right on the mark, however (‘don’t bend over, it makes you look like a prawn’) and there’s some properly silly physical comedy to enjoy.
The closest Thark gets to Jeeves and Wooster-like success is in the central performance by Robin Bell as the hapless but amiable toff Ronny, who brought some excellent facial acrobatics to the part. There were good performances as well from Alexander Hopwood as awkward posh boy Lionel Frush, and Isabella Hayward as Hector’s love interest Cherry Buck. Unfortunately, the cast weren’t evenly matched though, so not all performances were quite up to scratch.
Nothing had been held back in set and costume design, which were both detailed and sometimes even rather lavish for a small fringe production. One set change was even completed by way of a twenties-inspired dance routine, which, in my opinion, is really how they all should be done from now on.
All in all, Thark is an uneven play with some properly flimsy scenes. In its best moments though, this is a delightfully silly show, and you will certainly come out with your spirits lifted.
Author: Ben Travers
Director: Matthew Parker
Box Office: 020 7835 2301
Booking Link: http://www.draytonarmstheatre.co.uk/details.php?prodnum=8
Booking Until: 6 January 2018