It's Her Turn Now - The Mill at Sonning
Michael J Barfoot’s adaptation of Ray Cooney’s Out of Order has been modernised to an extent, although it’s telling when Rebecca Willey MP (Elizabeth Elvin) speaks on a hotel room landline because her mobile has apparently run out of battery – and all other calls to and from the room for the remainder of the show are made from the landline regardless, with no attempt to plug the mobile in and let it recharge. Willey therefore uses – in this day and age – a landline to ring another landline to get through to her Parliamentary Private Secretary, Georgia Pigden MP (Felicity Duncan): that the actual Government of the day has been known to use WhatsApp and mobile telephony extensively seems to have escaped the creative team.
The narrative is mercifully devoid of specific references to key events, political or otherwise, in the last few years, which allows the production to focus on the comedy value of an old school bedroom farce. The audience is also spared feelings of anger and frustration (and so on) at Government incompetence – whatever one’s political leanings – although there is, at least for me, an inescapable comparison to be made between Willey’s extramarital liaison and the conduct of a certain former health secretary.
That her husband Paul (Eric Carte) is referred to as ‘Mr Willey’ gives you an indication of the sort of comedy the show goes for – in Out of Order, he was called Richard, as in ‘Dick Willey’. In line with similar shows of this genre, the second half is more engaging than the first, with the first necessarily spends time setting things up for the briskly paced proceedings of the second. Genders have been reversed from the play this show is based on, and in this version, it is the men who are shoved into cupboards while the women beaver away trying to work things out. It doesn’t entirely convince – with John Worthington (Raphael Bar) rather lacking in confidence and assertiveness for someone who works as a ‘special adviser’ to the Leader of the Opposition. His wife Tracey (Michelle Morris), meanwhile, displays the kind of red mist anger that doesn’t, frankly, go well with her emotional hysterics elsewhere or her ingenuity in keeping tabs on her husband by relatively subtle means.
Completing the set of characters is Nurse Foster (Jules Brown), who looks after Pigden’s elderly father, Harry Gostelow, the increasingly exasperated hotel manager where the play’s events take place, The Waiter (James Holmes), who provides Rooms 648 and 650 with an almost ridiculous amount of room service, albeit in exchange for a fee, and The Body (Charlie Parker-Swift, who, without giving too much away, does an excellent job doing nothing).
It's not, deliberately, the easiest of storylines to follow, with various aliases thrust upon people, and while Elvin’s Willey (so to speak) tries to take charge of a progressively more chaotic situation, the standout performance for me was in Felicity Duncan’s Georgia Pigden, providing exquisite comic timing and superb physical comedy. The political backdrop seems fitting for a show about deceptions and lying, and this amusing and absorbing production provides a couple of hours of joyous escapism.
Booking to 18 November 2023
The Mill at Sonning, Sonning Eye, Reading RG4 6TY