Caught in the Net

Ray Cooney

Rumpus Theatre Company

Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield

From 16 January 2018 to 20 January 2018

Review by Steve Orme

It’s 15 years since Ray Cooney, one of our finest exponents of farce, bemoaned the fact that the demise of rep theatre had signalled the death knell for ensemble comedy.

Rumpus Theatre Company and its associated organisation Tabs Productions are determined not to let rep theatre disappear. Their spring play season at Chesterfield’s Pomegranate contains three plays, the first of which is Cooney’s 2001 offering Caught in the Net. It proves that, if Rumpus has anything to do with it, ensemble comedy is alive and in good health.

Caught in the Net is the sequel to Run for your Wife which is still the West End’s longest-running comedy. That ran for an amazing nine years.

Caught in the Net has all the hallmarks of a good farce: highly improbable situations, mistaken identities, physical comedy, double entendres and frantic entrances and exits before everything is happily resolved. It calls for energy, timing and skill which are all evident in Karen Henson and John Goodrum’s production.

The plot is centred on taxi driver John Smith who, for the past 20 years, has led separate lives with two wives. One lives in Wimbledon and the other in Streatham. His teenaged son from one marriage links up over the Internet with his daughter from the other marriage. They find it odd that each has a father with the same name who is 53 years old and a taxi driver. Chaos reigns as Smith comes up with a number of excuses to stop them meeting in person.

Goodrum plays Smith with the assuredness and precision that you might expect from an actor who has taken the role before in both Run for your Wife and Caught in the Net. His telephone impersonation of a Chinese restaurant owner to deceive one of his wives is uproarious.

The finest performance though is from George Telfer as Smith’s close friend and lodger Stanley Gardner. He is roped in to Smith’s deception and concocts increasingly implausible stories to prevent Smith being unveiled as a bigamist. Telfer’s attempts to speak on the phone while wearing a snorkel and his personalised answering service in a supposedly unruly office are hilarious.

There’s a marvellous cameo from John Lyons as Stanley’s confused dad who thinks one of Smith’s homes is a hotel where he’s been taken for a holiday.

Giving good support as the wives are Susie Hawthorne as the glamorous, more modern Barbara and Susan Earnshaw as cuddly, homely Mary. Both spend a lot of time being locked in one of the seven rooms which lead off the clever set serving as the two homes.

Chris Sheridan as Gavin and Charlotte Chinn as Vicki add to the fun as the youngsters who are unable to fathom out why their father wants to keep them apart.

Caught in the Net was written when the problems of people meeting online were not potentially as dangerous as they are now. Some people may find the play verges on the edge of political incorrectness. But as a farce, it can still be a superb evening’s entertainment if it’s performed well. On the night I saw it, despite a disappointingly small audience, there were more guffaws than giggles.