first night

Black Comedy

Rachael Steel is present as the lights go out in Cuths dinning hall...

It would be difficult not to leave a production of Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy without a smile on your face. Set at the South Kensington apartment of artist Brindsley Miller (Cameron Crees) and his spoiled fiancee Carol Melkett (Lizzie McGhee), the play begins as the couple anxiously await the arrival of their two dinner guests, Carol’s disapproving father ‘The Colonel’ (Digby Walker) and millionaire art collector Mr Bamberg (Theo Harrison), who is coming to view Brindsley’s work. In order to impress their guests, Brindsley has borrowed the expensive furniture of his neighbor Harold Gorringe (Adam Lyttle) whom he wrongly believes to be on holiday. The dinner plans are thrown into chaos, however, when the apartment is plunged into darkness by a blown fuse. Cue a series of hilarious and increasingly farcical episodes as Brindsley attempts to retain composure in the increasingly stressful situation, which sees the unexpected arrival of a number of characters, including his angry ex girlfriend Clea (Harriet Masters).

The most striking element of Shaffer’s play is perhaps the way in which it deals with the power cut itself. Beginning in almost total darkness, the blackout is signaled by the bright illumination of the stage, something that is momentarily broken throughout when characters strike matches or light torches. The cast of the CDS production certainly throw themselves into making this at first somewhat confusing staging decision convincing and indeed very funny. It must be a challenge to act as though totally blind under the bright stage lights, but all the cast are largely successful, and most impressively consistent, in their execution of this feat.

Particularly impressive is Cameron Crees as Brindsley, who faces the difficult task of removing Harold Gorringe’s furniture out of the apartment when he unexpectedly returns from his holiday and comes calling. Watching Crees exert himself stumbling over and groping both people and furniture whilst trying to keep up a facade of composure amongst his (quite literally) blinded guests, is one of the funniest parts of the play, and director Ollie Dixon takes full advantage of the comic potential of these scenes. In one particularly amusing moment, Brindsley unwittingly ends up in some rather compromising positions with Harold, the camp and sensitive neighbor who makes no secret in the play of his desire for a closer relationship with Brindsley.

It is attention to comic detail in moments such as this that makes the Cuths production of Black Comedy such a success. Special mention should be given to Jess Hof, whose portrayal of Brindsley’s devoutly christian neighbor, spinster Miss Furnival, manages to be both hilarious and rather endearing. Similarly, Adam Lyttle’s Harold delivers some fantastic one liners, and successfully avoids becoming too much of an overly camp stereotype. Indeed in a play full of stereotype figures, I would say that all the actors managed to stamp some individuality onto their roles to prevent them from becoming two dimensional.

As is the danger in this kind of play, at times the stage perhaps felt a little too chaotic. Though the production certainly made the most of its rather limited space in Cuths dining hall, due to the sheer number of characters on stage during the majority of the play, certain moments with lots of movement in at times prevent the audience from focusing on individuals and create perhaps too much confusion. This is a shame because, as is very apparent, all the principle actors provide much attention to detail in their actions and reactions throughout their time on stage.

Nonetheless, this does not detract from what is otherwise an impressively well executed and enjoyable production. With some very memorable comic performances, CDS’ Black Comedy promises to have you laughing from start to finish, and is a truly uplifting way to spend just over an hour of your evening. 

5 March 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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