Two Into One
Let me say straight away that comedy is extremely personal and so it is impossible to review with true objectivity. You either laugh or you don't. Happily, I laughed more or less constantly through Two Into One, a farce by the great Ray Cooney that was originally premiered at the West End's vast Shaftesbury Theatre in 1984 with a cast that included Donald Sinden and the late Michael Williams.
Now it has been snugly shoehorned into the far smaller Menier Chocolate Factory, and the laughter feels even more intense. Designer Julie Godfrey has resourcefully provided a set of sliding platforms that transform rapidly from the foyer of a Westminster hotel to two adjoining suites upstairs, including their bathrooms, lounges and bedrooms.
We're in classic farce territory, as it revolves around a philandering politician who is trying to have an affair with a married assistant from the Prime Minister's office, his harassed parliamentary private secretary and his wife, who harbours illicit desires of her own. When Richard Willey (the suavely polished Michael Praed), who is a junior government minister for Margaret Thatcher, declares early on, "Nothing can go wrong," you immediately know that absolutely everything will go wrong with his plans.
He intends to skip off a committee meeting to have an assignation in a hotel room with an assistant from the Prime Minister's office (played by Kelly Adams), while his wife (Josefina Gabrielle) goes to see a matinee of Evita. Both the mention of Thatcher and Evita are date stamped reminders for this being a period farce, though it was, of course, contemporary when it first opened in the West End in 1984.
But the rather blissful fact of not updating it means that it plays not just as an artefact from a different theatrical age but also has exactly the right sense of sexual hypocrisy and double standards. As his parliamentary private secretary George Pidgin desperately tries to cover for him, George is drawn simultaneously into an adulterous liaison of his own with Willey's wife, and being forced to pretend that he's actually having a gay relationship with a teaboy from the Foreign Office.
Will you find it utterly hilarious or just plain daft? I only hope its the former, but I wouldn't like to put money on it.
"If you enjoy farce, you will have a ball at this revival of Ray Cooney's play about lies and assumed identities in a Westminster hotel..."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"Ray Cooney's production achieves the correct delirious momentum and gets good performances from everyone, including the playwright."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"This hyperactive comedy was a success when it premiered 30 years ago but the modern reality of political life seems much more droll than this invented version."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard