Scouse farce is worthy take on a Gallic classic

Sex and the Three Day Week
Sex and the Three Day Week

Sex and the Three Day Week

Liverpool Playhouse

Until January 10

Written by Georges Feydeau in 1894 as ‘L’Hotel du Libre Exchange’, a satire on Parisian high society in the days of La Belle Epoch, Stephen Starkey has unaccountably relocated the action to England in 1974, the bleak years of Edward Heath, the miners’ discontent and the Three Day Week.

The story is much the same. Illicit partnerships in a run down hotel with bedroom doors opening and shutting like seals mouths at feeding time in the zoo.

The play opens with a bang, to the roar of Free’s ‘It’s Alright Now’, and Edward Harrison, as Philip, performing an air guitar ballet/ gymnastic display until his domineering wife, Angela (Natalie Casey in Abigail’s Party mode), comes in to berate him.

Philip prefers Catherine (Catrin Aaron), wife of his best friend Robert (David Berrill), who is too involved with his job to pay attention to his marital duties.

Inevitably, Philip and Catherine arrange a clandestine night at the Paradise Hotel, but Robert also arrives, hunting for ghosts (don’t ask) as does Fanny the au pair (Lucy Phelps), hoping for a night of passion with Philip’s son, Ben (Robin Morrisey, dressed as a coal miner – it is the Three Day Week, remember).

Final ‘guest’ is Miss Mayhew (Eileen O’Brien), a mithering old biddy with a penchant for pathetic malapropisms that should never have made the cutting room. She carts along a mynah bird in a cage (represented by a feather duster with the recorded voice of Ken Dodd).

Graham Rooney cropped up in a miscellany of roles and, needless to say, the acting by all was completely over the top – Basil Fawlty in overdrive, with lots of slapstick, executed with admirable precision and reminiscent of that other European re-write, ‘One Man Two Guvnors’.

Javier Marzan stole the show as Sebastian, the hotel concierge, who orchestrates the comings and goings of the guests. His soliloquy to the audience, after the power cut closed the hotel, was one of the two highlights of the night.

The other was when the cast, ignoring the script, suddenly all joined in, one by one, to sing The Eagle’s ‘Take it Easy’. It would have made an ideal ending.

A Christmas treat for lovers of traditional farce. Director Serdar Bilis was sensible not to descend the levels of smut and coarse innuendo of many recent so-called ‘adult comedies’.

But I think Feydeau did it better.

Ron Ellis