Theatre Review - Thark

The Park Theatre does not seem to have decided yet on a definite programming policy. There’s been an odd mishmash of genres in the main house, from contemporary plays to Georgian comedy and now Clive Francis’s revival of a 1927 farce.

I must admit that I’m not a great fan of English farce, unless it’s by Oscar Wilde, subverts expectations in some way or has a darker side. I’m also not sure why anyone would want to stage a revival of Ben Travers’ acclaimed farce outside of the West End. As I had anticipated, Thark is sexist, clichéd and only occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. And yet… The performers give it their all and it proved far less of a downer than I feared it would be. Although not my cup of tea, on the night I went the audience clearly loved it.

Sir Hector Benbow (Francis) is in his autumn years but still has an eye for ‘the ladies’. What they (and his wife) see in him is anyone’s guess.  Basically, he’s philanderer. Sir Hector has arranged to have dinner with Mayfair shop girl, Cherry Buck (Lucy May Barker), but is dismayed to learn that his wife is unexpectedly returning home at the same time that his date is due to arrive. He enlists the help of his nephew Ronny (James Dutton) with disastrous consequences. Ronny’s fiancée Kitty (Claire Cartwright) becomes increasingly suspicious of his erratic behaviour.

Meanwhile, Sir Hector is pursued by Mrs Frush (Joanna Wake) the new owner of his country house, Thark, who wants to cancel the sale.  She complains that the house is haunted. In order to prove her wrong, Hector and his family end up travelling to Thark for the night. They are met by the resident butler who tells them his name is Death (Andrew Jarvis). A wonderfully comic creation, Death finishes every sentence with a sigh or demonic hiss and the deadpan expression with which he serves them all really did have me laughing out loud.

Thark is peppered with double entendres such as when Hector, forced to share a bed with Ronny, turns to his nephew and enquires ‘Fancy a quickie just to rock you off?’ In Eleanor Rhode’s lively production the cast is clearly enjoying themselves and it is their joie de vivre that helped make the evening for me. Thark may not be for everyone, but for fans of light farce it’s undoubtedly just the ticket.

Running at the PARK 200, Park Theatre, until 22 September

Originally published by Theatreworld