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

Farce keeps up a cracking pace

Steady as she goes!  Linda (Christina Peake) prompts concern in her efforts to control a tea tray, watched by (left to right) Denise Phillips, Sandra Haynes, Nigel Higgs and Martin Walker. 

Move over, Mrs Markham

Highbury Theatre Centre, Sutton Coldfield


EVEN a Ray Cooney farce could struggle in the hands of a company unable to cope with the pace that is its essential element – but not for a moment is there a hint that Ian Appleby's production might be in danger of loosening its grip.

The second half is funnier than the first, as is often the case once the foundations have been laid and further complications can set in without the need for explanation. What you see is what you get – and what you get in this case is the tale of two partner publishers, set in the flat of one of them, over their offices. 

Not that the way they earn the daily crust assumes particular significance until their highly-valued children's author, the extremely straitlaced Olive Harriet Smythe, turns up at a time when it would be difficult to avoid noticing those people in pyjamas, nightdresses and one mini-dress running hither, thither and yon. 

It also happens that anyone entering the Markhams' flat stands a pretty good chance of being goosed. Inevitably, Miss Smythe becomes a startled victim, enabling Sandra Haynes to add shock and consternation to the arsenal of splendid responses she has already assembled among her spinsterly responsibilities. 

Denise Phillips, in the title role, is the wife of one of the publishers – confidently at one point spelling out the plot thus far and declining to be thrown by the fact that some of the people involved are required to masquerade as someone else.

Flighty nightie: Sylvie (Bhupinder Dhamu) offers a significant part of the mirth in Mrs Markham

 As her husband, Nigel Higgs comes rebelliously to his sudden need to be the butler but he slots smoothly into an unforeseen Flamenco to drown the sounds of a young woman who is beating on the inside of the locked bathroom door and whose presence would be very difficult to explain. 

The other partner, roguishly presented by Martin Walker, is the lecherous Henry Lodge, whose ever-dramatic wife Linda draws a sparkling performance from Christina Peake. David Douglas is onto a winner as Alistair, the rampantly bisexual interior designer – no decorator he, darling! – who fears that a bright red nightdress will scream at the sheets.

 Bhupinder Dhamu and Jess Ingram are the pert young things whose costumes have not made undue demands on suppliers of dress material and whose contributions include an amusing one-girl wrestle with the neckline and hemline of her shortie nightie after embarrassment has suddenly had good reason to set in. 

Daniel Payne turns up flustered behind a flush of flowers in search of the lady whom circumstances have suddenly made decisively unavailable for the illicit interlude he has in mind. 

It's a free-flowing nonsensical joy – though the word that somebody uses to describe the flamboyant designer does remind us that Ray Cooney and John Chapman penned it in 1968, before the world went all sensitive on such matters. To 12-02-11

John Slim 

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