Caught in the Net : Sequel to Run for Your Wife

  • Date:
    Thursday, August 30, 2001
    Review by:
    Darren Dalglish

    Ray Cooney’s sequel to “Run for Your Wife” is fantastic!! It is an intelligently written and well-acted farce that shows Cooney has not lost any of his magic.

    The story concerns John Smith, a taxi driver and bigamist! For the last 18 years he has had two wives. One lives in Wimbledon and the other in Streatham. However, he is in danger of being found out when his teenage son from one marriage communicates with his teenage daughter from the other marriage over the Internet. When John discovers they are to meet chaos ensues in his attempts to keep them apart.

    This is classic farce that has all the right ingredients of subterfuge, doors slamming, crazy tricks, and slapstick all rolled out at breakneck speed. This is helped considerably by a clever set, designed by Douglas Heep. It has both of John’s homes on the stage interconnected, and painted in bright colours of green, yellow and blue. The homes have many doors and this is essential to the action as people are in and out of them all the time.

    The staging is what helps the comedy to flow, but it is the superb acting, particularly by Russ Abbott, who executes Cooney’s funny lines with precision timing and he has facial expressions to-die-for. Russ Abbott plays the Lodger Stanley, who finds himself being submerged deeper and deeper into trouble in his tangled web of lies in order to protect his friend John. Robert Daws as ‘John’, produces a strong and competent performance as he rushes frantically on and off the stage (mainly dashing from one marital home to the other).

    The show’s funny intensity is increased after the interval with the arrival of Stanley’s eccentric father played by the wonderful Eric Sykes. The way he and his zimmer frame get pushed around by Stanley is hilarious. William Harry and Beccy Armory are outstanding as his children and Helen Gill, and particularly Carol Hawkins, are terrific as the wives. It is a fine cast that gels perfectly.

    I’m sure Cooney’s new comedy is going to be another smash it. It deserves to be!

    Notices in so far from the popular press are not as enthusiastic about this new comedy as I was.... Patrick Marmion for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "This is so painful, it's brilliant". MADDY COSTA for THE GUARDIAN says, "Caught in the Net simply isn't amusing enough. It has flashes of real comedy ...For all the neat choreography, Cooney's production can't conceal the fact that his material is dreadfully thin. JONATHAN MYERSON for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Just leave at home your knowledge of the last 30 years of comedy, and you can have a good time. Don't expect characterisation, don't expect revelation, forget reality. Put it another way: this isn't the sort of play you would ever want to see twice..." SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says, "Ray Cooney's Caught In The Net is a miracle ¯ it brings back a stage art I thought we'd lost, classic farce." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "The show is also heroically politically incorrect, with jokes about blindness, disability, senility, sudden death, funny foreigners and homosexuals piled one on top of the other with breathtaking disregard to the pieties of our age. It's sheer joy from beginning to end." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, "The sheer craftsmanship displayed by Cooney is amazing. This fizzes along from the beginning, the first laugh coming within seconds, leaving the audience almost exhausted several hundred laughs and two hours later. "

    The actors looked totally exhausted at the end of the play and so did I. If you love farce you will certainly love this show, which will have you laughing throughout and to top it all there is an hilarious twist or two at the end.

    Don’t miss it!!


    Links to full reviews from newspapers...

    Evening Standard
    The Guardian
    The Independent
    Daily Telegraph
    The Stage

    Next review by Tom Keatinge
    Sep 2001

    Maybe my taste for farce is waning as the years pass by, but my memory of Run for your Wife sadly eclipsed much of Ray Cooney’s sequel, Caught in the Net at the Vaudeville Theatre.

    The programme notes contain an interesting essay about the history of farce (how rare it is to find anything remotely interesting in most West End programmes for your three quid). One of the points raised is that farce was originally included in playbills as an “afterpiece” – a short, supplementary piece that followed the full-length play. Caught in the Net cannot be faulted for being true to the origin of farce, but therein seems to lie the problem of this production. The premise of the entire piece is laid bare in the opening seconds. Two teenagers living in different parts of South London find each other on the Internet and discover that they share (unbeknownst to them, although blatantly obvious to the audience), the same taxi-driving John Leonard Smith for a father. This coincidence of facts encourages them to arrange to meet for tea at Vicki’s house, presenting their father with the imminent collision of his two lives that he has sought to avoid for eighteen years.

    And so the action unfolds with ever more ludicrous attempts by the father and lodger Stanley Gardner (Russ Abbot) to avert the impending meeting and its inevitable consequences. Where Run for your Wife employed a level of sophistication of timing, deception and guile, Caught in the Net is unsubtle at best and gauche at its worst, and once we have been exhausted by this bludgeoning, the ending (I wont spoil it for you as you’ll have deserved it . . .) is so obviously telegraphed as to put a New Labour “good news” briefing to shame.

    But not all is “off message”; there are indeed some true moments of comedy, and it is predominantly the venerable shoulders of Stanley the lodger’s father (brilliantly played by Eric Sykes) that deliver the comic punctuation. It is only a shame that we have to wait until after the interval for his intervention. His son, the Smith’s hapless, yet eternally loyal lodger Stanley, thankfully manages to keep the momentum of the piece moving prior to his father’s arrival, with his blundering attempts to maintain the subterfuge. Beyond that, the ensemble’s work is disappointing, with John and Mary’s son Gavin (William Harry) grating particularly, with his high-pitched, forced and uncomfortable performance (lost hands on stage are so distracting), and John Smith himself (Robert Daws) becoming overly hysterical in his performance even by farcical standards.

    Yet despite this disappointment, ever overshadowed by my youthful enjoyment of the first time round, there is humour enough in the piece to entertain and amuse, albeit falling short of what could so easily have been.

    Tom Keatinge

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