Review by Jack Mitchell
Ray Cooney’s Chase Me, Comrade! contains a panoply of features we have come to associate with the genre of farce. From mistaken identities to impersonations, from swinging doors to bumbling detectives, and from suspicious foreigners to physical comedy, this play has all the ingredients for a nonsensical and hilarious night at the theatre. As director Glenda Kenyon notes, its staging at The Guild is about giving audiences ‘something to smile about’, and this production certainly lives up to that modest aim.
It is 1964 London, and the East-West tensions of the Cold War take on a local flavour as they play out in the living room of the Rimmington household. Nancy Rimmington (Jessica James-Moody) finds herself embroiled in a scheme to smuggle Russian ballet dancer Petrovyan (Samuel Chapman) into her home in order to safeguard him against the Russian embassy in light of his decision to defect to the West. She is aided by her friend Alicia (Koren Chambers), her fiancé Gerry (Douglas Spafford), and her neighbour Hoskins (Robert Mason), who have to somehow keep Petrovyan a secret amid the presence of Nancy’s parents (Greg Kenyon and Margaret Short) and a couple of local detectives (TJ Ross and Jordan Kenyon). Naturally, chaos ensues, as various characters resort to extreme measures in order to protect Petrovyan from being discovered.
The script requires a particularly high level of energy from the cast, and they delivered a monumental effort across the 2.5 hours of stage time. They kept the audience on their toes with a quick pace, a strong physical cohesion, and by leaning into the silliness of the story. James-Moody and Greg Kenyon were convincing as the family unit at the centre of the drama, bringing a natural touch and a strong sense of timing to their place within the cartoonish narrative. Chapman brought a ridiculous and entertaining physical flair to the role of Petrovyan, and both Spafford and Ross were impressive in their dedication to the physical agility required for the roles of Gerry and Mr Laver respectively. Chambers delivered a cool and dead-pan nonchalance in the role of Alicia, providing a nice contrast to the chaos occurring around her.
Set design by Greg and Glenda Kenyon was chic and refined, evoking the pastel colours of the 60s, and decorating the naval commander’s living room with nicely placed nautical touches. A porthole-style window was a particularly clever addition. The many doors, nooks and crannies of the set were effectively realised, and served the frenetic choreography of the stage action successfully.
Some of the 1960s sentiments of the play jar in 2022, particularly the British Empire-mindedness of some of the characters, who spout the word ‘Russian’ with an uncomfortable level of venom. Petrovyan, the sole foreign character in the play, was portrayed with histrionic levels of physicality and vocalisation in order to heighten his ‘otherness’. This was sometimes required in order to elicit strong reactions from the other characters in the play, but at other times came across as a simplistic embodiment. However, the exaggerated nature of the genre does encourage this kind of characterisation, and the West’s political concerns about Russia are as pertinent today as ever. Furthermore, any resentment of Petrovyan’s differences (of his language or his ballet prowess) is ultimately used by Cooney as an indictment of the British characters, who hardly manage to communicate well among themselves anyway. After all, miscommunication is a bedrock of the farce genre.
Glenda Kenyon has assembled a very capable cast and handled this racy production with prowess. There were some puns that were so lame they were worthy of eye-rolls, but it’s all part of the fun, and Chase Me, Comrade! is a well-rounded and entertaining night out at the theatre.
Chase Me, Comrade! is playing at The Guild until December 10, 2022.