Review: Octagon amuses while acting the fool

By Lindy Laird

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The cast of Fidelity Farce, from left, Ryan Bailey, Sally Leftley, Lila Lusher, Nick Green and Natalie Card, with Terri Brian absent. Photo / Pete Romer
The cast of Fidelity Farce, from left, Ryan Bailey, Sally Leftley, Lila Lusher, Nick Green and Natalie Card, with Terri Brian absent. Photo / Pete Romer

Brit.Com2.
Presented by Octagon
Theatre, September 9-25
www.octagontheatre.nz
Reviewed by Lindy Laird

Staging two one-act British comedy plays in one production could easily prove a snigger too far but, somehow, Octagon Theatre has pulled it off.

The gutsy little am-dram outfit is currently presenting Fidelity Farce and Last Respects, under the Brit.Com2 flag; both directed by Octagon stalwart Bill Finn.

Britcom has moved on from the merely smutty and outrageously risque but that genre is still alive and well, much to the delight of many Whangarei theatre-goers.

For someone who likes British comedy written by William Shakespeare, Willy Russell, Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Tim Firth and Simon Beaufroy, et al - that is, with a bit of depth, this reviewer usually finds the one hump or two humour of Fidelity Farce written by Gary Diamond and Last Respects, by Colin Calvert, slightly irritating.

But Fidelity Farce, the first of the two, was one running visual gag, thanks in large part to the comic timing and physical put-himself-on-the-line brilliance of Nick Green as unfaithful husband Vincent, and thanks also to solid directing by Finn.

Well done, too, to the set builders whose work withstood Green/Vincent's hilarious and committed hurling of himself at various doors to stop various love interests entering the room and catching himself in a compromising position.

There were sterling - and brave - performances by Natalie Card (as Mandy), Sally Leftie (Vanessa), Lila Lusher (Cindy), Ryan Bailey as the bellboy and Terri Brian (Emma).

The latter character had the least demanding role, little more than a walk-on part, which unbalanced the weight of the four wronged women's impact within the script. And, the denouement of the play was just plain silly, even if a little surprising.

Last Respects was clumsier in that, at times, some characters seemed not to know where to stand or what emphasis to give their part (to go all-out, or not to?); in the case of the widow Mrs Throgmorton (Carol Freebairn), couldn't her bitterness have been more acid-toned? That is a matter of direction, not acting.

David Cartledge as undertaker Reginald Deadlock was comically unctuous, funereal and slightly dodgy; Lila Lusher was superb as the grieving personal assistant Valerie, with her facial gags, barely controlled hysteria and slight speech impediment. She and Cara Schagen as Brenda, another bereaved female employee, performed the funniest strobed, sped up, slowed down chase around a coffin audiences might ever see.

Some of the play's wrinkles will be ironed out in subsequent performances. All in all, though, another sound production by Octagon, well-aimed at a target audience, and even managing to amuse one for whom Britcom is not usually one's cup of tea.

- Northern Advocate

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