The Menier Chocolate Factory stage has become the interior of a wood-beamed country cottage, allowing all the door-slamming, hiding and eavesdropping necessary for this farce-by-numbers.
For the uninitiated, Ben Travers was a British playwright whose farces had audiences at the Aldwych theatre rolling in the aisles in the 1930s. One of those plays was Rookery Nook, whose plot – based on the simple premise that the sight of a girl in pyjamas was enough to make men of the era go weak at the knees – allows Travers to use every trick in the book to create a classic farce that is very much of its time.
The pyjama-clad girl in question, Rhoda (Kellie Shirley), kick-starts proceedings, after some scene-setting, by turning up unannounced at Rookery Nook, the Somerset holiday home of Gerald Popkiss and his new bride Clara. But Gerald is home alone, Clara having been detained on the journey down, and the idea that a pretty young girl could remain in the presence of a newly married man, behind closed doors, is unfathomable. In his attempts to help the girl out of her situation – a subplot involves her German stepfather on the rampage – while shielding her from wagging tongues and his ballbreaking sister-in-law Gertrude, Gerald becomes the driving force behind the farcical goings-on.
Neil Stuke, as Gerald, shows a talent for blushing on cue as he ties himself in verbal and physical knots, while his cousin and partner in crime, Clive (Edward Baker-Duly), is more of a smooth operator. With an inflection in his voice or a sly glance, Baker-Duly revels in Clive’s playboy persona and winningly exaggerates all of Travers’s fully-intended double entendres.
Mark Hadfield as Gertrude’s henpecked husband Harold acts the stooge, pushed around as much by the two plotting cousins as by his domineering, hard-as-nails wife (Sarah Woodward), and Lynda Baron amply fills the role of no-nonsense housekeeper Mrs Leverett. A plethora of secondary characters divert the main story at times but add to the general sense of excitable confusion obligatory to all farces.
Very much of its time, Rookery Nook wouldn’t suit updating, so instead director Terry Johnson plays up to the 1930s setting and the period language – this is a time when ‘botheration’ was a swear word – to add a further layer of comedy for modern audiences, while designer Tim Shortall clothes the cast in stylish flapper dresses and dickie bows, reminiscent of an era long gone.