LIGHT AS A FEATHER, FUNNY AS A QUACK
There’s a lovely moment of finesse when Ben Miller, as a defecting New Lab MP in the dying days of the Brown government, is trying to impress on a Tory grandee his fitness for Cabinet. This involves him and his wife (Nancy Carroll) pretending that he is not a fraudulent expenses-milker and home-flipper. At one point the grandee gets a cake splattered on his suit, and Miller bends to blow the icing-sugar off him in desperate little puffs. The “It’s a Nigella recipe” is a sneakier icing-sugar joke, but the puffing is real class.
For all its news-quizzy political jokes this is at heart a Cooneyesque farce, rompingly directed by Terry Johnson: well-engineered, all exits and entrances credible but unexpected. It has no pretensions to depth or insight: this is the comedy of comeuppance, embarrassment and impossible excuses. Sharp but not bitter, joyfully mocking, light as a feather and funny as a quack.
Devilish good luck, of course, that MPs‘ salary increase hit the news this week. For Dan Patterson and Colin Swash went to the 2009 expenses scandal for their first stage play, incorporating its beautifully ludicrous domestic details of claims for “second” homes: a glitter lav seat, moat-cleaning, horse manure , hanging baskets and the infamous duck house itself (which makes a splendid entrance). But anger feels less appropriate than hilarity: this was an unprecedented mass trouser-dropping by the powerful, and you might as well laugh. One pleasure of this play is that it gives precisely the correct weight, no more, to a scandal caused by decades of dishonesty over MPs pay and the Fees Office consequently encouraging them to fill their boots with expenses.
The purely theatrical pleasures are even greater. Miller is perfect as the swaggering MP struggling in a net of panic, Simon Shepherd smoothly patrician as the grandee who despite assaults by cake, milk, manure and an enraged illegal Russian housekeeper (Debbie Chazen) continues his check-up on the new member in the second act by visiting his “London home”. Which is in fact occupied by the goth-leftie student son, (James Musgrave) whose email of course is email@example.com. He has sold the furniture and let his foxy girlfriend run an illegal business. Worse still, she’s from Burnley, which makes the MP’s wife gag and flinch. Indeed Nancy Carroll is a major delight, haughty and groomed and eager to take her interior decorating flair into the Sam-Cam orbit, yet able to let this ladylike demeanour disintegrate into comedic panic.
You could criticize it as shouty and frenetic (you’ll have no problem hearing from the cheap seats) but small sharp asides do soften that, and good lines keep on coming. Enumerating his claims Miller once cries “The pouffe and the trouser-press – what’s that, a novel by Somerset Maugham?” Good Huhne gag, too. Anyway, it’s farce: without spoilers I reassure you that there are corsets, a wardrobe, lost trousers, glue, a transparent wall and a perfectly logical giant panda suit. If you don’t laugh, I’ll have none of you.
Box Office: 0844 482 9675 to 29 March