The Public Reviews

Christopher Hong

Warwick Davis established the Reduced Height Theatre Company so he can for once be in a proper play and employ a full cast of actors of short stature. His choice is this farce full of vicars, soldiers and a German.

It is during the war where Rev Lionel Toop and his wife Penelope are expecting the Bishop’s visit with another vicar the next day. That evening, an old friend of Penelope Sergeant Towers is visiting and decides to borrow the vicar’s clothes for a night out. And before you know it, the Bishop and the other vicar arrive early, a German prisoner of war has escaped and put on yet another vicar’s uniform and the fun begins.

What little plot there is takes a while to develop. And when it does, it is mayhem of mistaken identity, drunkenness and over the top fainting. It feels distinctly dated and there is maybe too much repetition within it. Bear in mind it was written by Philip King during the second world war and was popular as a bit of escapism. But one’s dated is another’s old fashioned good fun. A bit of group chase around the building, perceived shenanigans in the cupboard and exaggerated moral outrage at someone in his undergarments can be quite amusing.

There are a few too many high pitched put on posh voices in the first Act between Rachel Denning’s Penelope and Francesca Papagno’s Miss Skillon which can be grating and wearisome. The direction by Eric Potts has the dialogue delivered in break neck speed and even sitting in the audience may feel a bit breathless at times. Though not the strongest text or plot line, some room should still be left for it to sink in. The upside is the production only lasts just under two hours with an interval.

The set is designed specifically for the cast which has an average height of 4 feet 2. The assembled cast is game and definitely looks like they enjoy the evening. Francesca Mills as Ida The Maid is the absolute star of the show. Her performance is perfect physical comedy acting and every movement is a wealth of entertainment. Even a quick shuffle around a tea trolley is done with impeccable hilarity and shows off her training in dance. Warwick Davis is comfortable in a role that is not too much of a stretch for him and is charming and great to watch.

This is an interesting venture and perhaps the play itself is a safe choice as a farce is not the biggest leap from the pantomime which is usually a rich source of employment for the cast. What will be really interesting to see is perhaps something more serious, maybe not on a big scale touring production such as this. But as a first outing, this is pure uncomplicated entertainment.