Think a perfunctorily put-together 1970s’ sitcom and you begin to get a flavour of Ken Ludwig’s more miss-than-hit golfing farce A Fox On The Fairway receiving its British première.
It’s set in the bar of Quail Valley Country Club on the eve of and during the annual tournament against a neighbouring club.
A club with the bizarre name of Crouching Squirrel – TLT did wonder whether it was a case of crouching squirrel, hidden fox, as the vulpine meaning of this piece’s escaped her.
Henry Bingham, the director of Quail Valley overplays his hand, foolishly accepting a wager offered him by the rival club’s director, putting all the Bingham assets at risk.
Crouching Squirrel’s “capital, capital!” Dickie Bell wears – ho, ho – a variety of outrageous pullovers and – ho, ho – mangles a plethora well-known expressions.
The characters are well-worn stereotypes – the bungling head of the club, the sex-starved blonde wealthy divorcee, the cEssex girl waitress out for evening class literary self-improvement, the dim but well-meaning new executive assistant with hitherto hidden talents and the battle-axe wife.
A saying attributed to the well-known golfer 😉 Karl Marx states, “History repeats itself first as tragedy and second as farce”.
Unfortunately here this laboured farce repeats farce only as a dim echo of more distinguished predecessors with clumsy set ups and very creaky gags.
Nevertheless, the cast is pretty good despite the intensely irritating characters they have to embody. However, the action, directed by Philip Wilson, simply isn’t fast enough to whip the audience up into the frenzy of laughter which is an intrinsic part of the farce experience.
There is a chance that this will bed in during the run, increase its pace and raise a few more laughs. There seem to be a few scattergun metaphors going on, a lashing together of some novelistic and filmic tropes and maybe the mention of the master of the silly-ass character PG Wodehouse gives a clue.
However, it’s only unpredictable in that many of its self-conscious, supposedly hilarious, cartoonish scenarios come completely out of the blue, even within the skewed logic of farce.
Still, Damien Matthews does a more than decent job as Bingham, the hapless director who is the prey for the predatory Simon Lloyd as property developer Bell out to win by hook or crook.
Natalie Walter does her considerable best with Pamela Peabody (her name seems to combine a novel’s virtuous chambermaid and a surname synonymous with philanthropy). Yet she still falls victim to the clunky scenarios, especially in a golfing version of William Tell’s apple, and some hoary gags.
Ottilie Mackintosh is forced to be supremely grating as the waitress Louise given to narrating events as a Homeric epic (it sounds better than it is in practice). Yet there is some pay off and, thinking it over, she may be the reason for the fox in the title.
Equally Romayne Andrews’ Justin feels wasted (in all senses of the word after a hospital cocktail of drugs for – er – a broken arm) as the easily upset suitor of Louise and Sarah Quist does what she can with Bingham’s Sherman Tank” wife Muriel who harbours a secret passion.
Besides the louder outfits, there are some surprisingly subtle costumes and styling, especially when it comes to Muriel Bingham.
The set designed by Colin Falconer is an ingenious, impressionist golfing green of paint and carpet superimposed on the club lounge and a final change of scene is a very impressive, if rather lumbering, coup de théâtre.
However TLT and her own little automative caddie were unsure, particularly in the first act, whether the translation of the American country club culture into purely English terms really works.
It’s a not a hopeless case, as it has a very good cast. Even so, A Fox On The Fairway raised only the occasional unregulated chuckle, rather than giving a novel twist to the farce genre and making TLT laugh her socks off. It’s a lower range amber light.