Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

A matter of laugh and death

Richard Taylor as Evelyn with Lynn Ravenhill as Mrs McGee with her friend Mr Daniels in rehearsal


The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


IF ANYONE decides to do a stage version of Kind Hearts and Coronets then Richard Taylor is your man to play the D'Ascoyne family – all eight of them – after his romp through this Gerald Moon black comedy.

Taylor plays the brothers Farrant, identical twins – apart from the fact Evelyn is more “heroically equipped” than his brother Rupert.

Rupert is rich, sophisticated, successful, a collector of fine art and lives in a swish, art deco London apartment.

Evelyn is a resting, i.e. unemployed, thespian who lives in a state of permanent penury and is reduced to dressing in drag and going off shoplifting for food, and fine wine of course, in Fortnum & Mason – one has to have some standards even when thieving.

Although in Evelyn's mind he is not stealing merely helping Fortum's contribution to Socialism by a redistribution of wealth.

He lives in a cramped one room basement flat where he is behind on the rent and where the amorous widowed landlady Mrs McGee, played beautifully by Lynn Ravenhill, has ideas of a horizontal nature as to how Evelyn might come to some arrangement over the arrears as her life  drifts gently along somewhere between tipsy and trollied.

Evelyn's solution from his financial predicament is the brother he hates and luckily for Taylor playing both parts, the feeling from Rupert is mutual. So an odd incidence to fratricide allowing struggling actor to step into the hand made, finely crafted shoes  of a successful, but dead, brother might be just what the doctor, or at least poverty ordered.

So to carry out the deadly deed Evelyn employs Major Powell, played with an air of confused incompetence by Tom Rees. Irishman Powell's only real attribute as a hired assassin is that he needs the money, which is hardly the best recommendation for a hit man.

The Major gets more and more flustered, and funnier and funnier, as he finds he is in the midst of a real murder, and is indeed the real murderer. His clean up of the flat is a comic gem.

Making things even more complicated is the friendly, neighbourhood, bobby PC Hawkins, played with officialdom's familiarity by James Stevens, who thinks nothing of popping up to Rupert's apartment particularly if there are policeman's ball or raffle tickets to sell.

In rehearsal Tom Rees as Major Powell (left) with the late Evelyn  . . . or is it Rupert Farrant rejecting the advances of Mrs McGee even in death

In a plot that twists and turns like a March hare on speed we get four murders, or possibly not, and two bodies, as least they are probably dead, along with as a well-executed sword fight with a major who it transpires is not all he seems, three shootings, a crashed Bugatti and blinis – courtesy of Fortnum & Mason - prepared before your very eyes on stage. It is not the cleverest or wittiest plot you will ever come across but you hardly notice in the hands of a fine cast who time some very funny lines to perfection.

Director Stephen Downing keeps up a cracking pace on a splendid set built by Keith Higgins and Mike Lawrence and their team. On one side we have Evelyn's basement hovel and on the other Rupert's swish apartment with its sweeping, curved staircase and revolving, built in drinks cabinet.

But it is the cast who make it. Lynn Ravehill, last seen as the nosy suspect Mrs Swetterham in A Murder is Announced, manages the surprisingly difficult portrayal of a lady who is the worse for wear for drink with some skill. Playing drunk is easy, playing drunk convincingly, as she did, is a different game altogether.  Her affected accent gave the immediate impression of a woman who saw her station in life a few stops further up the line than it actually was and who saw the well-spoken Evelyn as a prize on the journey.

Nonentities regular Tom Rees as the Major, or at least we think he's a major, bumbles along, stealing anything not nailed down from force of habit, a con man who is never quite in control of what is going on around him and with the resigned look of one of life's perpetual losers.

Then there is Richard Taylor who warmed up for this role as the corpse in A Murder is Announced where he showed a stiff upper lip, lower lip, face, neck . . . .

Here he is the flamboyant, Shakespeare-quoting failed actor as well as the more reserved, suave and erudite businessman managing to play the two with enough differences to keep them separated in the minds of the audience yet with enough similarities to make them believe the far-fetched murder plot with Evelyn taking over his brother's life might actually work.

A mention too for Chris Kay playing Walter Plinge – I thought dear old Walter played himself? - who in turn played the corpse or bits of corpse when needed for logistical purposes, i.e. to cover Richard Taylor's inability to be in two places at once.

Gerald Moon's play, first performed in 1984, was set on 11 December 1936, the day Edward VIII's reign ended and he made his abdication speech to the nation on the BBC.

I suppose it is a parallel plotline with one brother replacing another, abdication rather than assassination in this case, but, along with references to two bob taxi fares and rent arrears of three pounds and change, it does tend to date the play and give it a period feel which is a little incongruous – 80s humour in a 30s setting.

Still that does not detract from what is a highly entertaining evening which had an audience leaving with smiles on their faces saying how much they had enjoyed it - and you can't ask for more than that. To 27-04-13

Roger Clarke

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