Want a good laugh? Ray Cooney is the master farceur

Want a good laugh? Ray Cooney is the master farceur

Robert Tanitch reviews Two into One at Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1

I am surprised that the National Theatre has never invited Ray Cooney to direct a farce. He is the master farceur, both as playwright and director, second only to the great Georges Feydeau, and Two into One is one of his best plays.

Political scandals have always been good for a laugh, ever since Aristophanes; and no doubt before. A Tory Junior Minister (Michael Praed) decides to have sex with his secretary in a hotel near the Houses of Parliament. His wife (Josefina Gabrielle), unbeknown to him, decides to have sex with his aide (Nick Wilton) in the same hotel.

“There is too much sex in this hotel and I’m not having any of it,” says the hotel manager. The irony is that there is never any time for actual sex. Everybody is far too busy and exhausted, running around in a semi-undressed state of panic, opening and slamming doors, desperately trying to extricate themselves from the chaos their lies have created.

The farce works on the principle that if you are going to lie, make sure it is a whopper; the more ludicrous the explanation the louder the laugh. Cooney is particularly fortunate to have such an expert farceur as Nick Wilton to play the hapless, bungling aide.

The set, cleverly designed by Julie Godfrey to slide in and out, has two adjacent hotel bedrooms. There are six doors on view at any one time.  There is an art in slamming doors. The sound of doors being slammed is essential for the farce’s momentum and Cooney, who always directs his own plays, has got the timing so perfect, it’s a joy in itself.

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