A Fox on the Fairway by Ken Ludwig is Southwold and Aldeburgh’s Summer Theatre’s comic offering. Opening in Aldeburgh, it offers a very different kind of fun to Coward’s Private Lives, running concurrently in Southwold. With its slapstick scenes and knock-about antics, combined with misunderstandings of young love, unrequited love and no love-loss at all, the heady mix can only result in farcical moments of hilarity.
At a country golf club during the annual tournament with a local rival nemesis, Chairman Bingham (Simon Harvey) is determined to win at all costs. But first he must find a cunning way to ensure victory, as potential players seem pretty useless. The cast deliver a whirlwind of high jinks and verbal gymnastics that increasingly amuse, and the audience on opening night reveled in the physical larks and vocal barbs.
Harvey’s delivery as Bingham is sharp and clear, driving the piece forward. He is the steady captain, if not perpetrator, of these antics, trying to outwit Dickie, a self-made businessman from the competing club. Julian Harries’ over-confident Dickie preens in his garish jumpers, quick-witted enough to quote the rule book when it suits and smart enough to misplace it when needed, I suspect.
Much of the comic action rests with the physical. The audience relished the funny moments of Justin, the anxious prodigy golfer, whose skills were overlooked at first, played here with every funny bone in his body by Jack Solloway. He is a joy to watch as he scrambles across furniture, chases around bars, slides down walls and grapples with plunger, phone and putter, whole-heartedly committing to the comic scenario.
Peals of laughter ring out when Annie Miles’ suave and luscious Pamela reveals her hidden depths of passion for Bingham, allowing him to tee up on her lips, of all things. Her instant hysterical blindness to distract from kissing the ingénue was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience, but less so by the ever-adoring but over-wrought Louise (Francesca Baker), Justin’s fiancé. Baker delivers in a big way, never letting the pace drop. She moves skillfully from the playful with Justin to the hysterical, interspersed with poetic narration: clearly someone who can help the club win in a fair way. Together, Justin and Louise play out their engagement, energised like lustful rabbits. Their moments of attraction wonderfully fuel pace and confusion, along with the tension of everyone else around them. Ludwig is a master at squeezing every last drop of humour from the escalating conflicts.
The chaotic planning and plotting builds with ever-increasing laughter. Act one closes with the arrival of Muriel, Henry’s much talked about strong wife, played by Barbara Horne. She has as much delicacy as an Exocet missile and the instinct of a bloodhound. With her powerful presence and a vocal quality that can stop grown men in their tracks, Horne takes control of the intensifying situation – along with her husband Henry – to enthusiastic applause.
Ludwig’s contemporary farce allows the female characters more dignity and assurance than an older style farce might allow, and in the capable hands of director, Mark Sterling it amuses and never offends. Bawdy antics, confused figures of speech and double entendres delight, with the play moving to its winning conclusion as we realise that when the fox sees the rabbit at the eighteenth hole then the birdie may just be in sight! The skulduggery happily resolves itself in the best way for everyone, as love is finally requited, bridges are built and alliances are newly made. If we were ever driving into the rough or stuck in the bunker this cast ultimately hits home perfectly – a totally enjoyable straight down the middle production!
Written by: Ken Ludwig
Directed by Mark Sterling
Produced by Southwold and Aldeburgh Theatre
A Fox on The Fairway has completed its run at Aldeburgh Theatre. It now transfers to Southwold Arts Centre from 9 to 19 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.