Review – Omid Djalili, Iranalamadingdong, Derngate, Northampton, 5th February 2015

IranalamadingdongThis was the second time we’d seen Omid Djalili do stand-up. The first was about ten years ago at the Oxford Playhouse, where I remember his material played a lot on the Western World’s insecurities with people from the Middle East and he nicely juxtaposed terrorists with delightfully middle-class north London types. Since then, sadly, terrorism hasn’t exactly gone away; and it no longer plays a central theme in his comedy. He does however still surprise and undermine our preconceptions with his ability to blend Western and Iranian characteristics in one big melting pot and come up with some revealing observations that challenge our suppositions with one huge belly laugh. The tone is set from the start when his introductory music to the stage is his beguiling vocal performance of the Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men only to realise that he enters the stage to the lyrics Iranian Men.

Boothby GraffoeBut I’m getting ahead of myself. We were unable to pre-order an interval Merlot because the first half would only last twenty five minutes or so. That can only mean one thing – a warm up act. And what a top quality warm up it would be in the company of Boothby Graffoe, darling of Radio 4 comedy shows, joke writer extraordinaire, and the only comedian to be named after a Lincolnshire village. He has a very welcoming and unthreatening style, appearing to take his material at a relatively gentle pace, coming across as thoughtful, and enjoyably self-deprecating where it comes to his musical prowess. The mouth organ is used only as a deterrent.

During the course of his short stay with us, he provides his own insight into the mind and working practices of TV medium Derek Acorah, during which he can also find out some interesting snippets about audience members should he be so inclined, delightfully revealing how the whole psychic stage thing is utter nonsense and tosh. He also has a rather anarchic sequence where he becomes a German mother talking to her French child; looking back on it I still can’t quite work out what all that was about but it was amusing anyway. Mr Graffoe is a very entertaining man – not a lot in the way of uncontrollable guffaws but a very wry and intelligent approach that makes you appreciate a lot of subtle humour.

Omid DjaliliFrom Boothby Graffoe’s quiet and slightly reserved approach, you can’t get much more of a contrast than Omid Djalili’s loud, uninhibited, joyous persona. Here’s a man who celebrates a corny joke by bursting into a mock belly-dance, limbs cavorting in a parody of I Dream of Jeannie, floppy microphone simulating an unrestricted penis rising and falling with the Aladdin rhythms. For a big chap, he’s quite a physical comic, with many a ridiculous sequence of movement that results in his breaking into a not insubstantial sweat. You’d think that he doesn’t really care what he looks like, but actually he’s turned out quite dapper in a smart suit – he really could be the legendary embarrassing dad dancing at a wedding. Above all, he comes across as someone who’s really comfortable as he is. There’s not an ounce of that comedy neurosis that characterises so many other comedians. He is what he is, and you take it or leave it.

Among his very enjoyable observations and sequences, he explains how a happy marriage can always be attained providing you accept that your wife always knows best; why he really enjoys visiting America; why he loathes being called a “Paki” (his word, not mine, I hasten to add); and the informal way in which an Iranian father will sit around the house, even if his new daughter in law is about to visit. It’s all insightful, clever, meaningful and thoroughly revealing; plus it has the benefit of being extremely funny.

Omid Djalili 2His routine ended with a Question and Answer session, the questions having been written on pieces of paper by members of the audience during the interval and then placed into a cardboard box for Mr Djalili’s subsequent consideration. Ever since Mrs Chrisparkle’s brother had been selected by the late Frankie Howard as a plant in the audience to ask one of a number of specially pre-rehearsed questions – his was “Do you ever ad-lib?” – I’ve been suspicious of Q&As with comics. I’m sure that a number of the questions Mr Djalili considered and replied were genuine inquiries from our audience; but I wouldn’t be surprised if a handful were fully scripted either. Does it matter? Probably not.

A very enjoyable night’s comedy from a comic who performs with splendid pace, a love of language and a sense of the ridiculous. Definitely worth catching as he tours the country!

Review – Jersey Boys, Milton Keynes Theatre, 3rd February 2015

Jersey BoysWhen Jersey Boys first hit the West End about six years ago I was quite keen to see it as I have always enjoyed the music of the Four Seasons. Mrs Chrisparkle wasn’t quite so keen, however, so we’ve never seen the show together in London. But as fate would have it, a couple of years ago when she was in New York on business there was an organised trip to see it, so she had no choice but to go. She reported back that she quite enjoyed it, but felt that the documentary/narration structure was a bit, well, tedious. So it was with good grace that she accepted the challenge of seeing it again when it toured to Milton Keynes, as I still wanted to see it. And then, in another unexpected twist, would you believe, she got called away back to New York on business again and so missed it. You couldn’t make it up. As the Crown Prince of Bedford has just discovered he’s partial to the music of Frankie Valli, there was no need for her seat to go empty.

Tim DriesenIn case you don’t know – although I’m sure you do – Jersey Boys is the tale of the rise and fall of The Four Seasons. Nothing to do with Vivaldi, a Channel Island tax haven or some guys whose mums have warned them it’s cold outside; this is the group from New Jersey (hereafter known as Noo Joisy), responsible for falsetto-based hits such as Walk Like a Man and Sherry (in the 60s) and more mainstream pop in the 70s like December 63 and Who Loves You. I clearly remember my father absolutely loving Walk Like a Man, and it’s one of the first songs I can recall from my childhood. Their 70s hits were an important part of my teenager years; you know how some songs always remind you of a particular occasion? I have a special fondness for Silver Star, which always takes me back to one, carefree, happy, summer’s day in 1975. I was sorry to see it doesn’t feature in the show.

Sam FerridayThe Four Seasons weren’t always named as such. They first started out as the Variety Trio, consisting of Tommy DeVito with his brother Nick and their friend Nick Massi. It wasn’t music that united them at that time as much as their fondness for going in and out of prison. The story takes us from those early years, where Tommy discovers and nurtures Frankie Castellucio (Valli) into becoming a singing sensation, through to their meeting Bob Gaudio, who becomes the fourth Season, and the man who writes the big hits. This is when the group is riding high. Things, inevitably, start to fade with the discovery of Tommy’s massive debts, and the personal falling-out between Tommy and Frankie over Tommy’s chatting up Frankie’s new girlfriend. Tommy leaves, Nick leaves; Bob gives in to the fact that he hates performing; so it is left to Frankie alone to become a front man for a new backing group. There are personal highs and lows throughout the show for all the group members, and each of them narrates a part of the story – Spring and Summer for the rise of the Seasons; Fall and Winter for the decline. It ends with each of the band members explaining what it was to be part of this amazing enterprise. I found it surprisingly moving.

Lewis GriffithsThis is a really enjoyable production of a lively and engaging show. It’s packed with enjoyable tunes, not only originally by the Four Seasons but also from other early 60s performers; and the regular troubles and conflicts within the ever-changing group line-up keep a dramatic intensity going that provides a backbone to the story. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book is full of wit and attitude; as well as the Seasons themselves there are many fascinating and well-fleshed out peripheral characters; and the performance of the music, by both the actors and the band, is stunning throughout. You know how some musicals can be really over-amplified and thus the sound is distorted or it jars your eardrums and makes them hurt? The volume for this production is perfect; sufficiently loud to be dynamic and exciting, whilst still being, if it isn’t too old-fashioned an observation, sensible.

Henry DavisTim Driesen is an astonishing Frankie Valli. His vocal impersonation of his original falsettos is spot-on; you wouldn’t know you weren’t listening to Mr Valli himself. There’s a great energy to his performance, but he also conveys the personal sadness that the character experiences with great pathos. Sam Ferriday presents Bob Gaudio as clean-cut, ambitious, and assertive; having much greater natural intelligence than his co-members; and his re-interpretation of the lyrics of Oh What A Night (December 63) means that song will never sound the same again.

Damian BuhagiarLewis Griffiths is a terrific Nick Massi – his intimidating presence lurking ominously in the background in the same way that his “doo-wops” lurk in the background of the Four Seasons songs. When his character finally comes to life and he gains his voice it adds a huge amount to the drama. In the performance I saw, Tommy DeVito was played by understudy Henry Davis and he was brilliant. A wisecracking, big-headed Noo Joisy louse, with his sense of his own importance becoming progressively more massively over-inflated as his actual influence on and contribution to the group declines; a really strong performance. Additionally the four guys together perform incredibly convincingly. Their outdated but impeccably smart dance moves that are carried out with apparently effortless ease conjure up an innocent sophistication that seems completely alien today – but it’s mesmerising on stage.

Matt GillettI really enjoyed Damian Buhagiar’s funny and punchy performance as the young Joe Pesci, introducing Bob Gaudio to the rest of the band and trying (unsuccessfully) to muscle in on their limelight; Matt Gillett gives lyricist Bob Crewe a very credible characterisation as a hard as nails producer tempered with a fluffy coating of camp; and Sean Kingsley is a strikingly effective gangster Gyp DeCarlo, blubbing at Valli’s sentimental rendition of My Mother’s Eyes, whilst looking as though he could tear you limb from limb any second. And hats off to musical supervisor Ron Melrose; the band is simply ace. I was perhaps a little surprised that the end of the show didn’t climax into a stand-up, no holding back, concert-style finale, like Sunny Afternoon; but no, it finishes with a simple rendition of Who Loves You, and that’s that. Not a concert; just like a proper musical, really.

Sean KingsleyJersey Boys attracts a wide range of theatregoers, from the very young to those who would have already have been about a bit during the group’s 60s heyday. It went down massively well in the theatre, with a very enthusiastic standing ovation. It would certainly help your enjoyment of this show if you’re already a Valli/Four Seasons fan, but even if not, the fascinating backstory of the group’s various stages and levels of success is definitely a tale worth telling. Mrs C told me I’d be singing Walk Like a Man for days afterwards. She wasn’t wrong.

P.S. It appears that not everyone felt that the volume was perfect. During the interval and at the end there were some people remonstrating with the theatre management that it wasn’t loud enough up in the Gods. Unfortunate for them, I guess; but any louder and it wouldn’t have been half so enjoyable in the stalls. Some you win, some you lose.

Review – Light, Theatre Ad Infinitum, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 2nd February 2015

LightLast summer, Mrs Chrisparkle and I enjoyed our first ever visit to the Edinburgh Fringe, and one of the little gems that we missed was the remarkable mime drama, Light, performed by Theatre Ad Infinitum; so I was very pleased that we could have a second chance at seeing it. Sadly, after booking, Mrs C was called away to New York to have business meetings in -19 degrees temperatures and up to her neck in snow, so she still hasn’t seen it. However, as luck would have it, her returned ticket ended up being resold to my local blogging colleague Mr Small Mind at the Theatre, so we indeed formed something of a critical powerhouse in the middle of Row C.

The show runs for 70 minutes, a difficult time length to be the focus of an evening’s entertainment, unless you’re at the Fringe, in which case it’s the perfect length. But for the most part, if you’re going out for to see a show which starts at 7.30pm, you might feel a bit cheated if it doesn’t carry on a little past 8.40pm. However, Light is such an intense experience, with so much happening on stage in extremes of light and darkness, that it calls for major concentration by its audience; and if it had lasted much longer than 70 minutes I think I might have needed to be rescued from the theatre to be given some amphetamines to liven me up. It’s really exhausting (but worthwhile) viewing!

Theatre Ad InfinitumTimedate – the 21st century. Spacelocation – somewhere in the recesses of a thought police state, where everyone’s a scientist, a law-enforcer, or on the run. Cass has developed an amazing technology that allows thoughts to be transferred from one person to another by means of a coloured blob that you can pluck out of your head and then chuck to someone else, which they then in turn fit inside their brain. It’s like a thought email. But her partner – who is a bigwig in the government – has taken this force for good and corrupted it into a force for evil. And it’s their son Alex, a junior government agent, who is left to face the consequences.

The show was inspired by the revelations of Edward Snowden, and the ongoing debate about the role of an Orwellian Big Brother in our society. The totalitarian regime takes a positive invention and then manipulates it to take control of the people, by monitoring their innermost personal thoughts as well as what they say. What goes on inside our heads is one of the final bastions of privacy – no one can see inside anyone’s brain to examine and dissect their thoughts. They can record what we say – but our mind is a secret. In this 21st century state, anyone who tries to disconnect from the monitoring system automatically becomes a criminal, and is dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly. After all, if you’ve got nothing to hide…. Yes I’ve never believed that tosh either.

Clever Light ShowVisually, it’s a thrilling show. With both the stage and the auditorium plunged into darkness (hence the heartfelt request to turn off mobile phones because that really would spoil the illusion), you know things are happening on stage but you can’t see them. Suddenly a light appears and illuminates a face, an action, or a stance; then brief darkness again before another strikingly lit tableau where people will have changed position or attitude (or indeed, changed people). In another scene you might discover the bright bulbs along a table edge moving towards you, or upending on its side, serving as the show’s only real prop – apart from the very cleverly presented thought bubbles. The show consists of dozens (maybe even hundreds) of very short scenes like these, some perhaps only a few seconds long. The accumulation of scenes provides a gripping storyline, which, even though I confess I don’t think I understood absolutely, is full of drama, excitement and suspense.

The individual scenes are sometimes brutal in their depictions of pain or anguish, giving the whole piece a feeling of great savagery. It’s a world you really wouldn’t want to inhabit. The constant changes also give the show a terrific pace as well as intensity. Fast moving, exciting, dynamic; a constant challenge to your eyes to make sense of each developing scene; as well as to your ears, with its unsettling modernistic abstract soundtrack. There’s a sequence when the abstract noises are replaced by Beethoven; I found that a really moving contrast. There are also aspects of the story that are rather funny in a sentimental way – Alex’s parents first date is presented as a touchingly naïve and charming meeting, which only makes the subsequent reality of the technological ogre that is Alex’s father even harsher.

Great Use of TableAll this, and not a word spoken on stage; although there is a narrative voice over between some of the scenes. The strength of the performances comes across in the deftness of the scene changes, and the physical theatre aspect of how the actors work with their bodies, the way they occupy the stage. When it is revealed at curtain call that there are only five performers, you feel astounded that there weren’t half a dozen more. I don’t know to what extent the lighting plot is managed by a person or a machine; if the lighting sequence went wrong in any way it could really destroy the flow of the show – so whoever is behind that is an electronic genius.

A riveting 70 minutes that held a packed Royal auditorium enthralled – a true adventure in theatre. It’s touring until 16th February – and if you want to see something really different, this is a great opportunity.

You can read more about Theatre Ad Infinitum here.

Production photographs by Alex Brenner.

Review – Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Derngate, Northampton, 1st February 2015

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays Russian musicWe welcomed back the Royal Philharmonic to Northampton this week, under the baton of Alexander Shelley and with Clio Gould leading. I always enjoy the RPO when Mr Shelley is conducting. They seem to have such a good mutual relationship, and he always brings the best out of them. Maybe it’s because Mr Shelley is obviously a man of the people, picking out individual members or sections of the orchestra for their own applause whilst standing in their midst, rather than loftily from the podium.

The RPO had lined up an evening of Russian greats for us to enjoy at last Sunday’s concert. They’re always lively and dynamic works. Such a programme was to be an encouraging start point for Lady Duncansby’s first foray into the world of classical concerts, encouraged to dip her toe in the musical pool (so to speak) by her butler William. She wasn’t too sure that she would enjoy the experience so we softened her up with a trip to Pizza Express before the concert. By the time we got to the theatre, we were all already quite mellow, having spent an entertaining two hours dipping dough balls in garlic butter, attacking Diavolo Romana pizzas, and spending ages desperately trying to catch the eye of the waitress so that we could order dessert. I expect the two bottles of house Trebbiano contributed to our state of mellowness.

Alexander ShelleyMy favourite Russian composer is Prokofiev, but he didn’t get a look-in. Instead, the orchestra started us off with a rousing overture, Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila. It’s a perfect start to this kind of concert as it gives the orchestra an early opportunity to show their mettle with all its lively and fast moving tunes and attacking style. It’s also relatively brief, so it wasn’t long to wait for the main event of the evening, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2, with our soloist Alessio Bax. It’s fascinating to watch the different styles of different soloists. Some pianists absolutely hurl their bodies at the Steinway, writhing with the passionate expression of each note. Others, like Mr Bax, sit there dignified, controlled, like a proper grown-up person, simply allowing the emotion and passion to come from his piano hands. I’m unsure if one is a better style than the other, but there’s no denying Mr Bax coaxes a huge amount of beauty out of the keyboard. But it wasn’t only our soloist who gave a great performance. Rachmaninov Piano 2 calls on the orchestra to produce some fireworks and they did not disappoint, with some vivid stabbing interjections from the strings, and massively hefty percussive drums. However, I’m going to be controversial here and say that in my opinion Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto is an excellent example of style over substance. It all feels very lush and romantic and stirring, but when you take away the frilly bits I don’t think there’s much left. Sometimes when the wrappings fall there’s nothing underneath at all. However I’ve no wish to detract from the sheer bravado of the performance. In the interval Lady D could not contain her excitement at what she had witnessed. It’s always nice when you discover an art form that you didn’t think you were going to like. I bet she becomes a timpanist in the next life.

After a half-time Pinot we were back for Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5. Nothing sounds scarier than the name Shostakovich – to me it suggests all sorts of harsh clashing, uncomplimentary sounds, enough to batter the most distinguished of eardrums. But given that he had to make his 5th symphony something of a Politburo Pleaser – if he wanted to continue his music career at least (or indeed, keep on living, as old Stalin definitely had it in for him) – then it should come as no surprise that this symphony is a box of tricks with more melodies than the Pied Piper, that apparently had its first Leningrad audience weeping in the aisles. I could achieve that when playing the recorder as a child. A good three-quarters of an hour of pure Soviet panache that again encourages the orchestra to give as good as they can, with amazing string work, lovely harp highlights, effective decorations by the celesta and some good old banging of the drums. A really enjoyable performance; enough to send you out into the cold winter air protected by a veritable Cossack hat of musical warmth. The next RPO concert is on Valentine’s night. It’s a lovely looking programme but to be honest I’d sooner be wining and dining on February 14th.

Alessio BaxPS. I don’t think everybody enjoyed the concert. About halfway through the Shostakovich, the first violins all turned over their next page of sheet music to reveal several more intensely inscribed staves with a helluva lot of notes on them. The gentleman two seats to Mrs Chrisparkle’s left let out a sigh and said something to the effect of oh no there’s another ten pages at least, to which his companions either side of him retorted with a simple and curt shut up. They’d obviously been practising. Clearly someone who would have preferred to stay in and watch the Super Bowl!

Review – The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studio 1, 31st January 2015

The Ruling Class1968 – what a momentous year for British theatre. The new Theatres Act did away with the censorship by the Lord Chamberlain’s office and writers now the freedom to convey the characters, the stories, and the satire that they had previously had to employ subterfuge to produce – that is, if they could produce it at all. Watching this revival of Peter Barnes’ savage 1968 comedy The Ruling Class really brings back that atmosphere of challenging the system, daring to be different, taking risks that might or might not work, heaping anarchy on to the stage; having pure expression as your dramatic be-all and end-all.

J McAvoyThere’s no way this play would have been passed by the censor without his blue pen scrawled all over it. The main character spends much of Act One hopping on and off a crucifix (he thinks he’s God by the way, so it’s not inappropriate). The censor’s guidelines that had been handed down since 1909 included a clause that a play should not “do violence to the sentiment of religious reverence”. Well this play does that quite a lot. The 14th Earl of Gurney’s justification for believing he is God – “when I pray to Him I find I’m talking to myself” – is a pretty damning slap down to any fervent Christian.

Serena EvansBut that’s all history now. In 2015 we take it for granted that we can say or do what we like on stage (more or less – there’s always a chance that a Mrs Whitehouse-type person could bring a private prosecution, mind) and as such, for the most part, we don’t tend to push the boundaries that much anymore. It’s already been done, and we frequently take that as an excuse simply not to bother with it nowadays. But back in 1968, boundaries were there to be dismantled. The title itself – The Ruling Class – makes no apologies for its black and white vision of the nobility; a simple tale of old Tory folk, representative of many who basically ran the country.

Joshua McGuireThere’s the traditional family elder who likes to put on a tutu and dangle from a noose, the wet behind the ears toffee nosed cousin destined to be the local MP, the husband and wife who each take lovers as a given right, the mistress who can be employed to marry the Earl just so she can bear an heir, and of course the Earl himself, hidden away for years but who returns to take on the mantle of family leadership, despite being a paranoid schizophrenic who believes he’s God. At least he’s God until the second act, when he starts believing he’s something far more sinister. Outwardly the face of respectability, the play assumes that the Gurney family are typical of the old landed nobility on which the country has relied for centuries, and to whom, in previous decades, dramatists might have handled with kid gloves and loving respect. Not so Peter Barnes, who sideswipes the traditions and reveals the Earl and his family to be the immoral horde of crooks, lunatics and perverts that they are.

Forbes MassonSo is this play relevant today? Given the fact that we still have a considerable class structure, that a mere 1% of the world’s population own 48% of its wealth, and that you still have to have a considerable degree of independent wealth in order to stand for parliament, I’d say yes. Added to that the continued debate about the value of the House of Lords, questions of espionage, and a still inadequate understanding of mental health issues, and this is as relevant as ever. The only way in which the play feels at all dated is in some of the references. Old retainer Tucker goes loco on the news he will inherit £20,000, which at today’s rate would be about a quarter of a million pounds – currently about half the cost of the measliest studio apartment in Chelsea. The musical numbers, that the cast occasionally break into with delightful 60s anarchy, nobody sings anymore. “Dem dry bones” “My Blue Heaven” and the Eton Boating Song definitely represent a different era. Personally, I don’t think that matters much. It was written in 1968 – and it’s set in 1968. Not everything has to be today.

Anthony O'DonnellJack’s second act transformation from benign (if loopy) God to Jack the Ripper also highlights one of the time’s major obsessions. I can remember the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle saying there were only two things she hoped would be revealed before she died – proof that the Loch Ness Monster exists (yes, I know) and the true identity of Jack the Ripper. I don’t think either of those mysteries quite captures the imagination of the public today in the way that they did in the 1960s. A modern audience member who hasn’t done their research or bought the programme might well be confused by Jack’s identity change in Act Two, and if you don’t recognise the names of the Ripper victims as they get called out, you might not realise which way the play’s going. However, in 1968 those names would have been instantly recognisable by the entire audience. Of course, many of the Ripper theories suggest that a member of the nobility might have been responsible for the murders, so moving the plot in this direction not only gives it a nice twist but is still in keeping with exploring the reprehensible kind of tricks a family like the Gurneys could have up their sleeve.

Kathryn DrysdaleJamie Lloyd’s production is fairly faithful to the original, although I enjoyed the joke of having two male actors playing the Tory ladies Mrs Treadwell and Mrs Piggot-Jones. With a central role like Jack Gurney, it’s easy to see why it attracts larger than life, charismatic actors like Peter O’Toole, who took the role in the 1972 film and flung his unique magic at it. Now one of our best young actors, James McAvoy, has taken the reins and gives us a really entertaining and credible performance. It would be easy to go over-the-top with this role and make the character into a flamboyant show-off, a mere figure of fun whose eccentricities are there for us to laugh at and ridicule. But like King Lear’s Fool, there’s much more substance to Jack, and by making him a considered, rounded sort of paranoid schizophrenic, it makes his second act development not only perfectly reasonable but also very sinister. Mr McAvoy has great stage presence and excellent comic timing but is also scarily serious when the text calls for it. I’m pleased to report he also gives a graciously happy curtain call.

Ron CookHe’s supported by a talented team who provide us with some excellent performances. It’s been many years since I’ve seen Ron Cook on stage and I’d forgotten what a great actor he is. His Sir Charles Gurney is a delightfully weasly, self-centred, horrid little man, trying to maintain as much power for himself by manipulating those around him. Serena Evans, as his wife Claire, is a perfect match for him, weighing up how do you solve a problem like Jack with seeming innocence, but when she goes in for the kill it’s not quite the kill she expected. Her performance is a classic mix of nobility and tart. Kathryn Drysdale is nicely duplicitous as Grace, the 13th earl’s enamorata, Sir Charles’ mistress and the 14th earl’s wife. She’s in it for what she can get but at the same time shows a surprising loyalty towards her husband. Noblesse obliges for her just as much as anyone. Michael CroninJoshua McGuire, a fantastic Mozart in last year’s Amadeus at Chichester, is perfect as the simpering cousin Dinsdale, a typical Lord Muck character, acting superior whilst being completely lacking in substance; and I also enjoyed the quiet dignity of Elliot Levey’s Dr Herder, seemingly authoritative in his medical knowledge but joining the list of stage psychiatrists who end up on the off-piste side of the mental sticky slope in strait jackets. Joe Orton, who also combines lunatics and doctors in What The Butler Saw, would have loved the idea of the doctor being sexually aroused by a detective’s dead body outline on the floor.

James McAvoyAnthony O’Donnell provides many of the best laughs with his aggressively irreverent manservant Tucker, puffing away on his cigar as he joins the big league, but whilst also confiding in us that he is a Soviet spy – and why not? In Mr Barnes’ world nothing can be taken for granted. Michael Cronin is a pompous windbag of a Bishop, and Paul Leonard and Forbes Masson give excellent support in a variety of minor roles, including the ghastly Tory ladies, and I really liked Mr Masson as fellow Old Etonian Truscott, showing that the Old Boys Network is a solid bond that mere Elliot Leveyinsanity cannot break.

So although it’s very much of its time, this play also reveals timeless truths about timeless issues. A very funny production of a remarkable piece of writing, full of the joy of late 60s freedom and anarchy. A welcome arrival in the West End – we both loved it.