Mistaken identity, a love triangle and plenty laughs in between this new play from Richard Bean and Oliver Chris has a fantastic energy and characterisations – but can get a little bit repetitive in places.
Based on Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals, Richard Bean and Oliver Chris’s new play is a real hoot from start to finish – filled with flamboyant characters, liveliness and plenty of memorable lines, Jack Absolute Flies Again is ideal if you are feeling blue.
Set at a country house in 1941, Jack Absolute is a fighter pilot who has blown his chance at romance with the spirited and Lydia who delivers planes to the local airfield. Trying to prove that she has moved on from Jack, Lydia sets her romantic sights at Dudley a mechanic who has his sights on Lucy the maid at the country house owned by Mrs Malaprop (who always seems to get her words muddled up). Lucy also manages to meddle in Lydia’s romantic life by delivering many letters from her numerous suitors to the the wrong people. There are plenty of puns, muddled up situations to make this an enjoyable watch – even if towards the end there is a sense of repetitiveness with the humour.
Directed with great sense of pace and style by Emily Burns, the whole production feels like a proper old fashioned farce. From Mark Thompson’s colourful, brash and comic book style set design, the way in which language is used throughout and just the sheer volume of jokes that are flung at the audience it is very much an ensemble piece that really makes the most of the talents of its cast to ensure that the fun to be had is consistent. But it also acknowledges an underlying seriousness and tribute to pilots who during the war were regularly shot down and killed – the fight scenes (through projections) surround the audience in an effective way, while breaking through the comedy in an unexpected way.
Richard Bean is best known for his hilarious play One Man, Two Guvnors that has taken the world by storm and while it would be easy to make comparisons between this play and that one – this one stands out on its own terms and in a completely different way thanks to the co-writing ability of Oliver Chris who seems to be on the same wave length Bean in terms of the sense of humour and chaos required to make it work. Yes there are moments in which it feels a little bit repetitive (Mrs Malaprop’s confusion over words can get a little bit tiresome in places) but it is consistently spiffing good fun.
The cast are a complete joy to watch from the charisma of Laurie Davidson as Jack, Caroline Quentin putting her comical skills to delicious good use as Mrs Mamaprop, Kerry Howard’s sharp insight as the minxish Lucy and Jordan Metcalfe as the hapless but endearing Roy – the cast bounce off each other and the script beautifully.
If you are in need of a pick me up -then you definitely need to pop down to the National Theatre and catch this nicely timed piece of theatre.
By Emma Clarendon
Jack Absolute Flies continues to play at the National Theatre until the 3rd September.