By Gillie Tunley and Brenda Sandilands.
Shinfield Players are staging Who Goes Bare this week, a fast and furious farce by Richard Harris and Leslie Darbon; it is directed with pace and panache by Philippe Duquenoy, assisted ably by Stage Manager Graham Vockins with ingenious set design by Tim Howling, involving numerous durable doors, which open and close with split second precision.
Proprietor of the ailing health spa Eddie Manchip (a slickly assured, Basil Fawlty-esque portrayal by Adam Wells) sways dishevelled onto stage, clutching a vodka bottle, skimpy pink lace undies stuffed into his breast pocket; he is pursued by East End gangster Mr Butcher in a monochrome Kray twins’ costume (the decidedly dubious Brian Nixey) demanding the deeds to the property… or a considerable sum of dosh.
The only remaining employee in this dilapidated country pile is the bobbing, mob-capped maid Minnie (a deliciously half-witted performance by Maggie Smith, along with her ‘paramour’ Philip the dummy – some quite hysterical grappling here!). What’s to do? Who can save the resort from rack and ruin?
Enter Eddie’s ‘respectable’ brother, chartered accountant Brian Manchip (played with superbly svelte comic timing by Matt Lugg) with an intriguing catalogue of characters and costumes – our favourite being the slinky black bin liner number, followed closely by the stag portrait. He is bent on cavorting with the would-be nudist Nancy, a potential investor (a playful performance from the alluring Caroline White, who undresses to impress), but is hampered by the arrival of his domineering wife Joan (the splendidly stalwart Sandra Miall).
To further complicate matters, the tweedy do-gooder Mrs Court-Bending (the gung-ho Jessica Gardener with her impressive cut-glass vowels) enters periodically to scoop up discarded clothing for her charity, which will make someone, somewhere ‘jolly happy’ – but leaving a distinct dearth of raiment…
Complete chaos ensues, with synchronised door slammings, comings and goings, as semi-clad characters burst in and out of doorways with split-second accuracy.
Just as you think it cannot get any sillier, Maxine Maudlin of the multiple identity syndrome (a hilariously versatile performance from the Director himself, Philippe Duquenoy) arrives. In a play where clothes have become ‘optional’, he has an astonishing number of costume changes, ranging from a foppish Frenchman in heart emblazoned flares to a rugged ranch hand (lavish wardrobe from Carol Vockins).
The action hurtles along at breakneck speed, punctuated periodically by the entrance of the ponderous police sergeant (the delightfully deliberate Lorraine Willis, with just a hint of Caroline Quentin)… and then checked by the imposing entrance of Nancy’s dour Scottish husband Angus McSmith (the superbly dour James Lawbuary) resplendent in kilt and giant gleaming sporran, who becomes a most unfortunate victim of Minnie’s massage technique.
The play then saunters towards its most unexpected and hilarious conclusion. The evening’s entertainment fizzes with fun and frivolity, a perfect antidote to the winter drear – do try and catch it!
The Shinfield Players Theatre perform ‘Who goes Bare?’ at 7.45pm on Wednesday 4 March until Saturday 7 March. at their theatre on Whitley Wood Lane, Reading, RG2 9DF. Tickets can be bought online or by phone on 0118 975 8880.