Four Play - Review

In complete contrast to its first Brighton Festival contribution, All My Sons, came this second offering – emotional drama replaced by comedy; believable characters by caricatures.

The title was a play on words – four being the number in the cast. Just four actors were required to portray seventeen characters, a feat that involved over 120 costume changes. If that was not enough they had to be prepared to act out one of four endings chosen by the audience at the interval and only revealed to them about 15 minutes from the end of the play.

The script was very funny and proved to be a skilful piece of writing in its construction with precise timing needed to ensure that the character changes flowed almost seamless. The mechanics of the piece and the need for precision brought to mind that classic comedy, Noises Off.

What resulted was a frenetic farce, with many moments of inspired lunacy sending up the genre of the country house mystery murder with its gamut of stock characters. All were played as cartoons but with a nice mixture of overacting and underplaying.

There was plenty of clever word play, puns and in-jokes revolving round the size of the cast and the need to get off stage to change roles. Having a butler called Gardener and a gardener named Butler gave rise to plenty of confusion jokes – probably too many as the joke began to wear thin.

Sam Anderson, Sarah Charsley, Phillip Hill and Frank Leon worked their socks off as the pace quickened and events got out of hand. The furious build up to the interval left both cast & audience breathless. Not only were their acting skills successfully tested in switching roles but they also demonstrated a talent for ad-libbing in covering up the occasional gaffe.

Anderson’s comic contributions included the dominant Lady Angkatell, a black widow now on her seventh husband, Sir Henry, and Fiona Damask, a sexual predator. A drunken actor; rustic gardener; straight laced vicar and Arab con man allowed Hill to go to town with these diverse characters. In contrast there was delightful underplaying by Charsley as Sir Henry’s twin daughters, the chauffer, the vicar’s wayward daughter and the wife of the village philanderer.

It fell to Frank Leon to play Sir Henry, his long lost son, his butler and the philanderer with one of the highlights being the three way conversation he was required to deliver, off stage whilst changing costumes. Like his colleagues he often found himself in physical and manic situations that called for controlled restraint. All managed to do this – never letting their performances get out of hand.

A word of praise has to be given to the realistic set and those who constructed it.

Writer and director, Andrew Allen, has created a fine show, albeit overlong, that can become a great one with judicious cutting. It is appreciated that this would not be an easy task. It is not a case of just ditching sections of dialogue as so much of it needs to be timed to allow for costume changes.

Barrie Jerram
29 May 2011