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REVIEW: White Liars & Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer

5 Apr – 13 Apr 2019

Shaffer has often imbued his plays with an unsettling undercurrent and White Liars and Black Comedy are no exception, despite the humour in both.  Both are based around lies and subterfuge; the untruths that we tell others and ourselves, for clear objectives and less obvious reasons.

In White Liars, Sophie,Frank and Tom, are all liars.  Initial presentations and motivations change as fortune teller Sophie is paid to deceive. Josie Body was convincing in the psychic role, with a dry touch to the delivery of her humorous lines, especially those about her seaside existence that resonated with a Hastings’ audience – gulls rarely get good press.  Daniel Grint (Frank), and Dan Giles (Tom) – beautiful hair – created the claustrophobic atmosphere of enmeshed lives and unfulfilled aspirations. It was sad material but with intriguing twists and turns.

It is all much more upfront and obvious in Black Comedy even though we are watching characters who are in the dark as the lights have fused.  It’s a farce, with lots of well executed physical humour,  some superb characterisation and huge amounts of laughter from the audience.   The energy of Dave Fricker and Elly Tipping in the lead roles of Brindsley Miller and Carol Melkett was unending, driving the play along to its exhausted conclusion.  Minister’s daughter, Miss Furnival (Tessa Boase), was a delight, making the most of her running alcohol gag.  Nice “touches” too with Colonel Melkett’s (Ian Klemen) bottom and other in character moments amongst the mayhem.  Ian Klemen’s mellow tones provided a balance to the frenetic pace and noise, and Victoria Fay as Clea cleverly injected an air of mystery and tension – and further beautiful hair.  Nick Cairn was a rich camp neighbour drawn into the chaos who earned our sympathy and Graham Pearcy was the electrician sent to rectify matters but added more confusion.   On the night I saw the play, Peter Mould popped up and then disappeared through the floor, as George Bamberger, played on some performances by Franck Hoedemaker. 

This was engaging theatre that worked across a single main set of scaffolding and hanging material.  Congratulations to Michelle Bennet for hair styling, and to sound and light operators for the atmosphere created in the first play and tight co-ordination of light and dark in the second. Costumes (Charlotte Snook) looked right; Carol Melkett’s stunning pink tights and psychedelic dress, and their deterioration during the evening, being especially memorable.  Thank you to Directors Leigh Shine and Jack Whosea for bringing us these Shaffer classics.

Philp Blurton

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