“Darling, there’s been an accident…”
Neil Simon’s farcical comedy Rumours has been transplanted from New York to Oxford in this RoAm Productions/Madison Theatre Company co-production which is now playing at the Hen + Chickens theatre pub at Highbury Corner. Occasionally, I like to go into a play completely blind, knowing nothing beforehand in order to be completely surprised. It is rare that I get the chance to be unspoiled about a play but like a bag of Revels, you never know what you’re going to get. Unfortunately here, the show turned out to be a farce which is one of my least favourite genres!
The show is set in the country home of Charley and Vivian on the occasion of their tenth wedding anniversary but as the four couples invited to join them arrive, they are left to their own devices as Charley is stuck upstairs with a gunshot wound to his earlobe and Viv is nowhere to be seen. But as Charley is the Finance Minister and it turns out that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted and intended to kill, the guests gather round to cover up the political scandal that would ensue once the police get involved but soon get caught up in a tangled web of lies, alibis, stories and subterfuges in order to protect reputations all around.
There is a huge amount of energy onstage, some of it very fresh and appealing, but far too often it wasn’t sufficiently marshalled and so manifested itself at times as an auditory mess with too much arbitrary shouting and some hurried gabbling of lines which needed to be clearly enunciated for clarity’s sake over the surrounding din. Dialling down the volume and controlling the speed and trusting the humour in the writing to come through rather than forcing the issue through performance perhaps would have made it stronger, but this is very much a matter of personal taste – not everyone wants their pandemonium to be controlled like me.
Rumours is a curious choice for revival for two young dynamic companies: there’s an economic argument as farce does prove to be a popular choice amongst theatregoers and so I hope it does well for them in that respect. This particular play involves characters who have been around the block though and there’s such a fresh-faced-ness to several cast members that it does take a little getting used to, to establish how old everyone is playing up to. But there’s fun to be had here too, much of it coming from the 80s setting with some frankly amazing hair going on and party frocks that haven’t been seen since Howard’s Way and there are plenty of witty lines scattered throughout the play. Ultimately though, my natural antipathy for farce aside, I don’t think Rumours quite hits the mark despite, or indeed perhaps because of, the amount of enthusiasm behind it.