Trumpets and Raspberries
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 10 May
Farce is a form that seems to thrive on dangerous times. From the great war disillusionment and depression that saw Travers and Coward at their peaks, on to the social revolution of the 60s that saw Orton’s tragically brief supremacy, and up to the economic catastrophes of the 70s and 80s that backgrounded the height of Dario Fo’s popularity, when the world seems to have fallen out of equilibrium, farce becomes rampant. It seems appropriate, then, that Fo’s reflection on the mad, terrorist dominated, recessional world of the latter 70s and 80s should be revived today.
In it, humble socialist auto worker Tony (Jimmy Chisholm) finds that his errant ways have led to his own body being mistaken for that of the grievously injured fat cat who runs his car plant. Full body reconstruction by a sinister plastic surgeon (Steven McNicoll) leads to a doppelganger in the shape of Sir John Lamb, and none among his wife (Kathryn Howden) his mistress (Shonagh Price) or a suspicious local detective (Keith Fleming) can tell the difference.
Tony Cownie’s production, set in 2011, sees some plausible but bleak auguries on the horizon, with tough economic times, terrorism and a Cameron Prime Ministership all in play. It’s all very believable, as farce ought to be, before its described world goes mad. There are, though, a couple of jarring moments in the necessary logic; McNicoll’s performance as a kind of Dr Strangelove manqué is brilliant, but why would Edinburgh be hosting a Werner Von Braun figure three years hence?
There are also a couple of moments in which such things as British intelligence bugged furniture disrupts the vacuum packed logic needed. All that said, this production provides the greatest laugh-out-loud moments of the theatre year.
The scene in which bewildered husband Chisholm is force fed up his nose by his solicitous wife is gut-crunchingly, head achingly funny, and the second act generally seldom fails to amuse. Chisholm is in his element, with impeccable physical comedy and timing, while Fleming’s macho cop, occasionally given to flights of homoerotic Nancy is also a treat. Combine this with a disturbing sting in the tail about corporate greed and political corruption, and you’ve got a strong night out.