Donkey's Years

Michael Frayn
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring

Publicity photograph

How do you feel about school reunions? Excited, apprehensive, looking forward to a good time, or dreading meeting again the people from your younger days and finding that they have been more successful than you?

I approached this show with some apprehension when reviewing it last year in London, farce being such a difficult genre to perform well and needing split second timing and boundless energy from the participants. It turned out to be one of the most hilarious comedies I had seen for a long time, the expertise of the excellent and experienced cast (under the direction of Jeremy Sams) easily overcame the predictability of the script and they gave such outstanding and believable performances that I found myself laughing from start to finish.

This time director Michael Simkins (who previously played the role of Dr. Buckle) has chosen to play up a little more of the farcical element and from the beginning the performers are playing to the audience rather than to each other, creating a less credible production. All the same there are some outstanding performances and the audience thoroughly enjoyed it.

A group of former university students are meeting again at their old college after twenty five years, the reason ostensibly to donate funds towards a new building. They are greeted by a beaming and avuncular Ian Lavender as the porter with fifty years service under his belt, “Your generation would never have dreamed of defacing the college,” he says, adding, “Not when they were sober” – which gives some idea of what will follow as these men, mostly in illustrious careers, are delighted to be away from the restraining influence of friends and family and, under the influence of a great deal of alcohol, revert to their old student ways which is no doubt why the college needed a new building in the first place.

Mark Hadfield is the cabinet minister who spends the whole of act two with his trousers around his ankles (seems highly likely in view of press reports on our government) and has perfected a frantic and very high speed shuffle across the stage. Patrick Ryecart is the doctor with the straying hypodermic which finds its way into most of the cast by mistake (wouldn’t you know it!), and Norman Pace (of Hale and Pace fame) is the insignificant student whose name is never remembered, but thrilled to be part of the action at last he holds forth on his chosen profession – the study of parasitical worms in the small intestine!

The role of lugubrious academic Quine is taken extremely competently by understudy Michael Wagg, Peter Forbes is the very camp vicar (there has to be one), but it is Sara Crowe, as the only woman in the cast, who holds the stage giving, to my mind, the best performance of her career so far. She is Lady Driver, now a magistrate and respectably married to the Master of the College, but she must have been quite a girl in her day as all seven men have fond memories of her, particularly reminiscing about the frequent sight of her climbing over the railings late at night and getting her skirt caught on the spikes. She even manages to (almost) keep her dignity when wrapped in a sheet.

A show very much enjoyed by a capacity audience and a treat for the many lovers of farce.

Touring to Cardiff, Southampton, Bromley, Eastbourne, Stoke, Glasgow, Bath, and Malvern.

This review was first published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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