In the very week that David Cameron declared war on “the benefit scroungers” the Mill at Sonning Dinner Theatre opened its revival of a splendid comedy that fully reveals the profits and perils associated with cashing in on — or in this case fraudulently exploiting — the availability of generous state hand-outs.
Michael Cooney’s 1997 farce Cash on Delivery focuses on Jack the lad East Ender Eric Swan, played with a cheeky charm, a fine sense of comic timing and considerable athleticism by watchable newcomer Rikki Lawton.
During a two-year campaign of peculation, of which his wife Linda (Helen Armes) is in utter ignorance, Eric has netted a fortune — “twenty-five thousand a year, no tax,” he gloats — by making false claims for himself and on behalf of an army of imaginary lodgers: “They just kept giving me all this money.”
Nor is it only money. Physical ailments — alopecia, back problems and the like — allegedly affecting the lodgers and their equally fictitious families have guaranteed a steady supply of wigs, corsets, stockings and outsize brassieres.
A misconstruction put on these when Linda discovers the stash leads her to call in a shrink (played by Brian Godfrey, who also directs) to deal with Eric’s supposed cross-dressing. As it turns out, the only female impersonation we see comes from the Swans’ one genuine lodger, the nervous, nerdish Norman (Nick Wilton). He becomes complicit in Eric’s deception — much against his wishes — with the arrival of a snooping social security inspector (Eric Carte).
Hitherto, Eric’s only partner in crime has been his Uncle George (Michael Kirk), on whom much indignity is heaped during this day of disasters. His misfortunes include — so it appears — that of becoming a corpse, thereby requiring the presence of both a remarkably jovial undertaker (Royce Mills) and a simpering grief counsellor (Anita Graham).
For reasons I cannot begin to explain (far too complicated) Norman’s fiancée (Lynette McMorrough) believes the stretchered stiff to be her beloved, which sets yet more comic business in chain. All that is needed to complete this gloriously silly romp is the arrival of a big-bosomed benefits boss (Felicity Duncan), the dragon every farce requires.
As may have been guessed, Michael Cooney is related to veteran farceur Ray (son, in fact). The creative fecundity he displays here demonstrates he has absorbed all that dad could teach him and more. It’s a hoot.