We’re living in an era where we don’t just distrust politicians, but actively expect them to be capable of all kinds of deceit and shenanigans — which means it’s the perfect time to stage a new production of Ray Cooney’s classic farce.
Updating the action from the 1980s to the present day, ‘Out of Order’ sees Tory minister Richard Willey about to get up to no good in a hotel suite with Mrs Worthington, a secretary for the opposition. Their tryst is put on hold by the discovery of a dead body, lodged halfway through the room’s sash window. Willey calls on his faithful, dogged aide George Pigden to help keep a lid on the potential scandal; what follows is a tangled web of aliases, misunderstandings and bungled cover stories.
The first act is a little dry, and the circumstances which set the plot in motion feel more than a little bit like housekeeping. But that’s all made worth it in act two, as Willey and Pigden’s various deceptions begin to implode and their little situation spirals wildly out of control with the arrival of Willey’s wife and Worthington’s husband.
On press night, the role of Willey was played by understudy Simon Murray, who carried the weight of the show’s manic plot with aplomb, give or take a few flubbed lines. But Shaun Williamson, best known as Barry from EastEnders, stole the show as the increasingly frazzled Pigden with his facial contortions and exasperated groans.
The cast is ably rounded out by James Holmes as a doddery waitor who’s not quite as daft as he seems, Arthur Bostrom as the hotel manager, Susie Amy as the would-be adulteress and Jules Brown as her vengeful husband. There’s even a delightful cameo appearance by Sue Holderness, aka Marlene from ‘Only Fools And Horses’, as Willey’s wife.
And if ever a piece of set design were to be considered the star, it would be the hotel room window here, comically knocking out at least three characters at various points during the show.
The only real criticism here is to be levelled at the rewrites which bring the story into 2017. Mentions of Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit add nothing to the story, and if anything, some of the bluer gags (and a handful of rather crude gay jokes) would have drawn considerably less wincing from the audience if the play were still set in 1980.
But ultimately, ‘Out of Order’ is pure fun, the kind that could only ever be set in Britain, with our repression, bizarre obessesion with appearances… and of course, our incorrigibly untrustworthy politicians.