Monday, 26 May 2014

Two Into One - Reviews

It's now a month since the last performance of Two Into One at The Menier Chocolate Factory and I've finally got round to going through the reviews. Most of them were pretty good and there were only a couple of negative ones; here are some extracts:

The mechanical ingenuity is literally mind-boggling and Cooney is an absolute master of making every line, however feeble, count: the situation changes, usually for the worse, every time someone opens his or her mouth and puts a foot (not a sock) in it…Wilton implode(s) hilariously in improvisatory desperation.

The variations Cooney works on the theme of people desperately trying to explain why they are in the wrong bedroom with the wrong person at the wrong time are positively Lisztian in their virtuosity. Nick Wilton is superb as the PPS, his well-padded and often nearly naked body drenched with sweat as he constantly tries to lie his way out of disaster, even to the point of pretending he is having an affair with a tea-boy in the Foreign Office.

The heart of the play is Nick Wilton as Pigden: the shy, tubby civil servant charged with booking the guilty pair a hotel room. Wilton plays it shudderingly but gallantly terrified, making increasingly crazy attempts to smooth things over and fend off Pamela. A fine physical clown, he combines absurdity with  brief  but precious moments  of real poignant desperation.

Deliriously daft hanky-panky executed with engaging vim and dexterity by a crack team. Pallid man-boobs flecked with soaps suds from the bubble bath he has taken with his boss's randy wife, Nick Wilton is a joy as the long-suffering PPS, an improbable object of passion who is forced into every convolution of desperate cover-up on Willey's behalf  – to the extent of feigning an affair with a Foreign Office tea boy. 

As you’d expect from a Cooney farce, Two Into One has moments when you just can’t help yourself — a spasm of convulsive laughter grips your throat and leaves you gasping for air as the tears stream down your cheeks… Nick Wilton’s Pigden is a lovely mix of hopeless helplessness and wild mania.

We love a good farce, and Ray Cooney is the master of them. Heck, he’s ever garnered himself an OBE for being so very clever. The revival of his 1984 play Two Into One at the Menier Chocolate Factory proves that Cooney is still sitting near the top of his game. The performances are all of a very high standard, with Josefina Gabrielle, Michael Praed and Nick Wilton all giving energetic comedic turns. 

Tacky, ridiculous and crass, Two Into One is everything a good farce should be… The play is set in the Westminster Hotel, where MP for Thatcher’s conservative party Richard Willey and his wife are staying before a political debate. Needless to say, Mr Willey is planning on having a midday rendezvous with one of Thatcher’s secretaries while his wife goes off to an Evita matinee. As is inevitable, however, not all goes to plan and Willey’s parliamentary private secretary, played by a balding, awkward and loveable Nick Wilton, futilely tries to cover for his boss as everything spins wildly out of control.

When I first saw Ray Cooney's play in 1984, I dubbed it a "classic farce". Encountering it again in the author's own revival, I see no need to revise my opinion. If you're a devotee of farce – and I realise not everyone is – Cooney's play can hold its own with the very best of the French master, Feydeau. Farce is not a genre for the the faint-hearted. Cooney's production achieves the correct delirious momentum and gets good performances all round. Nick Wilton exudes mounting desperation as the ministerial aide, Michael Praed as his sleek, silver-streaked boss resembles a discomforted badger and Josefina Gabrielle as his wife registers suitable shock at finding herself in bed with her own husband.

Ray Cooney pays homage to Feydeau’s A Little Hotel on the Side with his deliriously funny 1981 farce likewise revolving around thwarted efforts to conduct an extramarital affair in a hotel. A terrific ensemble cast are all the funnier for treating it with deadly seriousness and not letting their guard slip at all to indulge the waves of laughter engulfing them from the audience.

The production has the right degree of energy, and the performances are lively. Nick Wilton’s George is almost unbearably manic, and Josefina Gabrielle brings a lovely poise to Pamela.

(In) a cast that delivers excellent teamwork under Cooney’s direction, it is Nick Wilton’s Pigden, stripped down from bowler-hatted civil servant to embarrassed soap-sud layered lover, who gets to score most often. He has lost the plot even more than the rest in its many convolutions.

Regardless of whether you usually prefer to see big commercial musicals or heart wrenching plays, everybody needs to see a good farce every now and again, particularly when they are written, directed and performed to the standard of Ray Cooney's Two Into One… the pace is extraordinary, the timing is just as technical as the choreography of a huge ensemble dance number. Michael Praed (Richard Willey) and Nick Wilton (George Pigden) are sensational in the two leading roles.

Cooney marshals the physical business with formidable precision. The mounting look of terror in Wilton’s eyes as he tried to surmount the latest ludicrous obstacle hurled in his path is increasingly hard to resist.