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Theatre review: Funny Money/Liverpool Royal Court

Phil Key enjoys a Ray Cooney romp with none of that swearing ....

Published on February 3rd 2010.


Theatre review: Funny Money/Liverpool Royal Court

LIKE drawing room comedies and kitchen sink dramas, you may have thought the British farce had been consigned to theatrical history. Not quite yet.

It has come roaring back at full power in Funny Money at the Royal Court, a farce from the modern master, Ray Cooney, still best known for Run For Your Wife which did indeed run seemingly for ever in London’s West End.

On paper the plot looks ridiculous and too contrived. But on stage, it works beautifully. Great timing by the cast is essential as is the ability to perform the farce for real with just the minimum of top spin

Funny Money dates from the mid-1990s, but for this new Liverpool production it has been slightly updated and given a mild Liverpool makeover.

As with most farces, it deals with mistaken identities and in this Cooney version it’s a case of multiple mistaken identities in a plot so complex it sometimes feels like it needs a slide-rule and compass to work out.

In lesser hands it might just become confusing, but here a company of excellent farceurs and a steady hand on the directing tiller produce a production that sails smoothly over the dramatic waves.

How to explain the show? On paper the story probably looks plain daft but I’ll give it a try.

A dull Liverpool office worker, Danny Perkins, picks up the wrong briefcase and inside it finds £2 million in used notes. Instead of handing it in to the police, he takes it home with plans to make an immediate dash to the airport with his wife. He suspects a crook has laundered the cash and won’t be reporting the loss to the police.

Unfortunately, his wife, Jean, has been preparing a birthday dinner for Danny and is not that keen to drop everything immediately and head for Barcelona or Bali (she is given the choice).

Besides, their friends Vic and Betty are due to arrive for the dinner.Undeterred, Danny orders a taxi. Then things go wrong. On his way home, Danny had visited a pub toilet several times to count the cash and had been spotted by a St Helens detective.

The detective, Davenport, arrives to accuse Danny of soliciting but turns out to be open to a spot of bribery. Then a Liverpool detective Slater turns up to report Danny’s death. A body had been found in the river, trussed up, shot in the head and clutching Danny’s briefcase. He needs someone to identify the body in the morgue.

Soon the house is full with the addition of a frustrated taxi driver and the two puzzled friends while Danny gets more and more inventive about who he is and who everyone else is. A whole

Australian family is dreamed up and characters find themselves introduced to others under assumed names.

People are hustled into other rooms (the entire action takes place in a living room with four doors) and people start forgetting who they are meant to be.

Meanwhile a mysterious person – thought to be “Mr Nasty”, the owner of the briefcase – keeps telephoning asking about a “brufcas”. By the end, they await the imminent arrival of a “Mr Big”.

As I explained, on paper the plot looks ridiculous and too contrived. But on stage, it works beautifully. Ray Cooney knows just how to pace these things.

Great timing by the cast is essential as is the ability to perform the farce for real with just the minimum of top spin.

Neil Caple plays the hapless Danny to perfection with never a wrong move. His growing vexation as matters spin out of control is a joy to behold. He keeps the character truthful, the body language the right side of exaggeration and delivers Cooney’s fast and inspired dialogue with just the right sort of confidence.

Royal Court favourite Eithne Browne has a ball as the anguished wife Jean who hits the bottle during the evening’s events and turns from sober missus to a falling about mess. She has a gift for comic timing which is used to the full here, her side looks and astonished reactions just right. She also knows how to play drunk for full comic effect.

Roy Davis delivers the most Scouse performance of the night as the taxi driver who keeps coming in and out of the house to collect his fares only to find his would-be passengers changing each time.

Mark Moraghan and Jane Hogarth play it fairly straight as the puzzled friends Vic and Betty and get genuine laughs as a result while Alan Stocks is a menacing Davenport and Roy Carruthers a dominating detective Slater. Mark Bixter makes a late and unusual appearance as Mr Big.

Director Leslie Lawton – former artistic director of the Liverpool Playhouse – makes a triumphant return with this show, knowing just where the comic emphasis should lie. With Billy Meall’s useful set, it is difficult to see how this farce could be better played. And not a rude word anywhere.

9/10

*Funny Money runs at the Royal Court until Feb 27.

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Royal Court RegularFebruary 3rd 2010.

The cast were all brilliant. Eithne Brown is an amazing comic actress and great performances from Neil Caple and Roy Davis the cab driver. Haven't laughed so much in ages. Highly recommended!!! You can enjoy a nice drink whilst watching the show too. Theatre is so now!!!

Lillywhite LillithFebruary 3rd 2010.

Saw it last night - spot on Phil Key.

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