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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Comedy Theatre, London

By Michael Leech

  Donkeys’ Years

There's usually a play by Michael Frayn running in the West End, often popular with audiences, even though recent ones proved more thought-provoking, tending to the somewhat dense and wordy. Now, as it seems to be re-cycling season in London, his early ones (25 and more years ago) are popping up. They were usually in a very different vein: frantic Frane farces in classic English or French mode. These tales of his from another time were well crafted and very successful. And there's the rub, alas. They were then; not so now. I confess to being in a minority here, however, as most critics approved, but the audience around us was hardly rapt. At the Comedy, it's creaky seat time.

The light-hearted crazed plots and ludicrous situations originally worked well, but not so much anymore. Like revues they slid out of fashion, and unfortunately time has not been kind to Frane's fun. To judge from the latest revival, Donkeys' Years from 1976, his old wheezes have truly passed their sell-by date. This one, in a well-ridden format, has become a rather "down and nearly out" old donkey.

Set in a minor Oxford college where the boys are having a weekend reunion 25 years from graduating, it starts quite well. Seeing long lost friends, chatting, reminiscing, drinking, indulging in buffoonery, getting matey and nostalgic, are the order of the play. But alas it soon wears thin as cobweb, and long before the two acts have spooled out it became watch-checking time.

This production is saved by a superb cast however, really the reason for commending it. The actors (including elegant Samantha Bond; was she the college bicycle?) feature the divinely funny David Haig, Edward Petherbridge as a lugubrious college servant, and droll James Dreyfus).

So all the fun and laughs are provided by the creations of this very well chosen and inventive cast (well directed by Jeremy Sams). They obviously just adore it. It gives them a fantastic chance to shine, and shine they certainly do. In fact their input is the one joyous thing this lumbering comedy now offers. Plan to have a strong drink in the intermission (well, as strong a potion as mean-minded London theater bars offer) to weather a second act saved by the high spot: Mr Haig doing a wildly funny "tour de farce." He and his colleagues triumph to save this shaky show.


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