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See How They Run, a CurtainUp London review CurtainUp
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A CurtainUp London London Review
See How They Run



Penelope: Everytime we meet I'm struck with the desire to go to the village green, tear off my clothes and dance the Hula-hula.
Miss Skillon: (acidly) If you did, we might be shocked but we wouldn't be surprised!
See How They Run
Nicholas Rowe as the Reverend Lionel Toop
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
The whole experience of going to the Duchess Theatre where See How They Run is playing is one of nostalgia for Britain in the 1940s when people co-operated and camaraderie ruled as we united against the threat of the Hun. Before the curtain up, some of the audience join in a sing-a-long of wartime classics like "We'll Meet Again", "Roll Out the Barrell and "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag". The night I went there was barely anyone in the audience who would not have been grown up in 1944 apart from the odd and very bored grandchild, dragged along as companion who would patently rather have been at Avenue Q.

See How They Run is a collector's item, a genuine theatrical time warp event where people speak with that standard version of English adopted by the BBC and called "received pronunciation." It is true that you can hear every word! Set in an English country vicarage during wartime, this farce's plot lines are rather silly and convoluted. There is a nosy, interfering spinster, a flighty vicar's wife, a humourless bishop, a saucy maid, an escaped goose-stepping German prisoner and several others, some of whom adopt clerical garb to create confusion. The designer has gone to town, not so much in the traditional country house set, but with sandbags placed everywhere in the theatre in case of our being caught in the Blitz rather than in remembrance of the anniversary of more recent bombing.

With Douglas Hodge (the actor currently playing Titus Andronicus at The Globe) directing See How They Run is a faithful reproduction of the original farce. The performances are adept and polished even if their vehicle chassis is a bit rusty. The sozzled spinster is hung out to dry in a cupboard after she self medicates with the brandy bottle. Julie Legrand is outstanding as the rubber legged church helper and flower arranger who resents the vicar's wife, a former actress, also nicely played by Nancy Carroll. I enjoyed Nicholas Blane's little rotund vicar who stumbles into this madhouse in the Third Act. The famous line comes from the wife's uncle, Tim Pigott-Smith's indignant bishop, "Sergeant arrest most of these vicars!"

Though the third act was pacier than the first two, my taste does not have enough wit to counteract the horseplay of people chasing each other around, one in his underwear. Set piece jokes like Miss Skillon's sexual misunderstanding on seeing Penelope and Clive (Jo Stone-Fewings) re-enact their parts in NoŽl Coward's Private Lives seem more contrived than spontaneous. It may be a play about a lost England, a rural romp but it doesn't provide enough escapism. I think reducing tickets to wartime prices may be the only way to get it to run.

SEE HOW THEY RUN
Written by Philip King
Directed by Douglas Hodge

Starring: Tim Pigott-Smith, Julie Legrand
With: Nicholas Rowe, Nancy Carroll, Jo Stone-Fewings, Adrian Fear, Nicholas Blane, Chris MacDonnell, Natalie Grady
Design: Tim Shortall
Lighting: Ben Ormerod
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: Two hour with one interval
Box Office: 0870 890 1103
Booking at the Duchess Theatre to 28th October 2006
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th July 2006 performance at the Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, London WC2 (Tube: Covent Garden)
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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