A note in the programme from A Fox on the Fairway playwright Ken Ludwig may well suit American audiences (the Samuel French Acting Edition of the script encourages theatres to include it in their programmes, even to the point of advising that a free online copy is available on his website), but it comes across as slightly superfluous to a Home Counties one. It is, however, interesting to note how people on the other side of the Atlantic are briefed on what Ludwig calls “the great English farce tradition”, and I daresay it proved a useful reminder of its illustrious history in any event.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with assuming no prior knowledge, and theatre productions should be appreciated and understood without having read up about it beforehand. Here, British accents have been retained by the cast in a play originally set in America. For instance, a line where one character asks another “Are you English today?” in response to a quaint turn of phrase becomes “Have you been reading PG Wodehouse again?” It works to some extent, particularly when there is a rain delay to golf activity.
But, in the end, the production’s creatives can take the play out of America but don’t entirely succeed in taking America out of the play. Let’s just say two things. Firstly, employment laws over here are somewhat different – employers cannot fire people just because they don’t like them. Secondly, the obsession with winning at any cost or consequence is distinctly American. Anyway, to rank amongst the best of farce plays, British or otherwise, this one needs to be substantially pacier than it is.
While the entrances and exits are aplenty, there seems too much of a gap between one door closing and another opening, physically and consequently figuratively speaking. As ever with comic farces, one must not read too deeply or analytically into the plotline – it is, after all, supposed to be ridiculous. If anything A Fox on the Fairway starts off a little too credibly, and it’s a while before anything significantly zany happens.
The set sufficiently portrays a prestigious country club – the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch workshop department clearly had fun constructing it. In terms of casting, it’s the ladies who steal the show between them. Muriel Bingham (Sarah Quist) makes a late entrance in the evening’s proceedings but is a breath of fresh air, whilst Pamela Peabody (Natalie Walter) proved confident and headstrong. It’s Ottilie Mackintosh who shines brightest, as Louise Hindbedder, an employee of the Quail Valley Golf and Country Club, run by Henry Bingham (Damien Matthews). Hindbedder’s reactions to events as she sees them (jumping to conclusions, yes, but reasonable ones purely based on what is in front of her eyes at any given moment) were priceless, and a constant source of amusement. Quite rightly, she gets to say the show’s epilogue.
I thought Matthews’ Bingham could have been a little more vocal – a tad more explosive, if you will, given the importance he claims to attach to the golfing tournament underway during the play. Some good physical theatre (‘Cocktail Counterpoint’ in La Cage Aux Folles comes to mind) livens up the show before the interval. I think I would have preferred the William Tell Overture at the curtain call as suggested by the playwright in his curtain call instructions in the script – the alternative choice of music (I won’t say exactly what it is, as that would prove too much of a spoiler) seemed out of kilter with a distinguished golf membership club.
Shooting under par (a good thing, for the uninitiated in golf terminology), this is one of those shows that in lesser talented hands, could have been taxing and arduous. For those who “stay the course” (to quote Louise Hindbedder), although it’s not entirely clean, this is a gently comical and entertaining production, and there are more than a few laughs to be had. If it comes across as reticent and understated in places, perhaps it is rather British after all.