The Unrest Cure
Simon Godziek and Rob Groves
Pentameters Theatre, Hampstead
This determinedly old-fashioned comedy may not be to everybody's taste but it is of high quality and therefore is certain to amuse the vast majority of those tempted to give it a try.
While the co-writers, Simon Godziek and Rob Groves refer to their creation as "A new period comedy inspired by PG Wodehouse", that refers to the style whereas the subject matter owes at least as much to that glorious short story writer Hector Hugh Munro, better known as Saki.
Designers Daniel Raggett and Emily Hague have done a fine job of creating the sitting room of the Sea View Hotel located in a fictional West Dorset town circa 1932. The furnishings look lavish and clearly they, along with Groves who directs, have gone to great trouble to ensure that everything runs like clockwork.
This is necessary, since the plot is primarily designed to accommodate as many jokes as can be fitted into two hours and a number of them are visual.
The co-writers were tempting fate by invoking the memory of PG Wodehouse since viewers would inevitably be expecting a certain style and comic quotient. In fact, they do a pretty good job of recreating the aura of the Master and the vast majority of the jokes have the audience delighted regardless of the occasional anachronism. The fact that a number do not hit home may have less to do with innate corniness than direction and timing which cannot always cope with their proliferation.
The plot is entirely predictable but has the familiarity of a comfy pair of old slippers. After hearing that the lives of brother and sister Ernest and Cecilia Huddlestone are filled with boredom, a second pair of siblings, a couple of young chancers named Virginia and Charlie, decide to create an unrest cure for them.
For anyone not devoted to Saki, this is the opposite of a rest cure in that rather than calming the nerves of the recipients, it is designed to excite them to the level of frenzy.
This certainly works, as the suggestion that the Prince of Wales will descend upon the empty guesthouse meets with gleeful panic, souped up by Ernest's best (and one would surmise only) friend James played by Tom Yeates.
The deliciously wicked Virginia, given mischief and energy by the splendid Lucy Middleditch, comes up with more and more contrived princely fads to test the patience and determination of the home team.
A convincing Math Sams is the typically Wodehousian Ernest, a 45-year-old overgrown schoolboy immaculately dressed in hideous slipover and period specs. He suffers, sacrificing both his kitty and rose garden to royalty.
Eva Gray's Cecilia does rather better in an unlikely ending, which leaves everyone on stage destined to live happily ever after. In her case, the arrival of Steven Blake who joyously portrays the younger siblings' splendidly stupid uncle turns the middle-aged spinster into the shy young thing that she once was.
The writers are also well served by a cast who clearly enjoy the opportunity to take us back in time to the innocent pleasures of the era of Wodehouse, Saki and Coward.
Given luck and the right producers, not to mention a little rewriting, there seems every prospect that this topping tale could have a life after its run at Pentameters ends.
"The Unrest Cure" runs until 26th November
Reviewer: Philip Fisher