Funny Money

Ray Cooney
Ian Dickens Productions
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2007)

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Farce demands split-second timing, numerous doors for endless exits and entrances, very high speed delivery giving the audience no time to dissect and examine the convoluted plot and, for me, it has to be at least half way believable.

In this play Henry Perkins (David Callister) finds he has picked up the wrong briefcase and, instead of his office papers and half a cheese and chutney sandwich, he discovers one million five hundred thousand pounds in used notes. (Inflation has hit the stage – the original was £735,000.) Well – it could happen to anyone, and what would anyone do? Count the notes several times in disbelief, have a few drinks to steady the nervous excitement and rush home in a slightly delirious, slightly drunken daze to tell the spouse that “we’re off to Barcelona – first class!” All right so far – I’ll believe that – especially as that amount of money in cash suggests it is already illicit gains and chances are the police won’t be informed. “But” says Henry’s wife Jean (a very young Harriet Usher), “what about Mr. Nasty who now has your briefcase? Besides I don’t want to go and we’re expecting our friends Betty and Vic for your birthday dinner”.

From here the situation becomes more and more fraught as the arrival of a policeman sends the couple into a spin and they begin the lies which escalate as one situation follows another and soon the stage is awash with friends, policemen and cab driver, constantly coming and going and all of whom are given a different story, which they try desperately to fit into some sort of sense.

I have to admire the cast (led by John Altman of Eastenders fame) for their amazing memories as they swap names, identities and relationships so frequently and swiftly that it is a miracle they remember who they really are at the end of the show, and the set construction has to be complimented too for the very solid doors which withstand any amount of slamming – until a handle accidentally falls off a door, is fixed back on, and falls off again when a door on the other side of the stage is opened. This is true farce and extra funny being totally unintentional. The more a situation is contrived and played for laughs the less amusing it becomes, and it is almost a ‘trademark’ of British farce that people have to be discovered in comprising situations (rather overdone and held too long in my opinion) and then have to talk their way out of them – or in this case accept the mistaken conclusions.

So what happens to the money and does Henry manage to keep it? Well, it begins to fritter away in pay-offs to almost everyone, beginning with £25,000 for the first policeman (played splendidly deadpan and almost seriously by Robert Duncan). Vic (Peter Blake of the expressive eyebrows) takes a cut before being included in the escape plan and Betty (Caroline Lister who seems to have most of the best lines) becomes over-dramatically graphic when describing a murder and is told “Jean, you’re not the Daily Mail”.

There are plenty of very funny one-liners with some topical references to bring the dialogue up to date. A pleasant evening’s entertainment, and cab driver (Patric Kearns) sorts it all out in the end.

This review was first published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor