THARK: Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London: Review

Kat Pope August 26, 2013

Three stars:

Classic farce seems to sort the men from the….women, as during the press night of the revival of Ben Traver‘s 1925 celebrated Aldwich Farce, all I heard were bellows and snorts from the men and nothing much from the female members of the audience at all. I also had a peek at the assembled faces during the ‘funny bits’ and saw the men cracking up while the women sat, stony-faced.

As, last time I looked, I was still female, it may explain why Thark left me a little chilly.

PRINT-thark-press-096 Clive Francis and James Dutton photocredit Ben Broomfield

Director Eleanor Rhode certainly hasn’t done a bad job with this old groaner from the time when an audience loved to laugh at people dropping their aitches, and the cast all do sterling work. It’s just that it really is, a bit like Count Arthur, one of those things you either love or hate.

Adapted by Clive Francis (who also plays Sir Hector Benbow), Thark is populated by upper class twerps, their put upon servants, and some of those horrible, horrible nouveau riche types. Eek. The women don’t fare well, being either popsies or dragons, but then neither do the men, as none are exactly blessed in the old brains department.

The plot is as creaky as Cherry Truluck‘s mostly wooden, sparse yet effective set. Sir Hector is an old letch who’s come across a pretty shop girl and has invited her to his London home for supper. Meanwhile, Warner the maid (played perfectly by Sarah-Jayne Butler) has mixed up her instructions and also invited Mrs Frush (Joanna Wake), the old lady who’s just bought Thark, a haunted pile in the country, from Sir Hector, along at the same time.

Then, guess what. Sir Hector’s wife only blooming turns up too! Lawks, the laughs!

In the second half we’re all transported to Thark as Sir Hector’s ward and his son’s fiance, Kitty (Joanna Wake), wants to get to the bottom of this haunting business. Sir Hector and son Ronny (James Dutton) end up in a tiny bed together in a thunderstorm, while the trees outside groan and tap on the window, and the butler, Jones (Andrew Jarvis), stalks about menacingly.

Francis plays Sir Hector with great relish, one eye glinting at the audacity of his plans, the other from the obligatory monocle, while James Dutton as Ronnie is all rosy-cheeked affability and vacuous charm (although when he had his back turned, I could have sworn it was Jack Whitehall in the role, so much does he sound like him).

Lucy May Barker plays the beautifully monickered Cherry Buck sweetly, and John Wark as Butler Hook is excellent in his lower class fawning. Jarvis‘s Jones (Thark’s butler’s alias – but I won’t tell you his real name as it’s one of the best bits of the play) is all beard, rolling r’s, and deathly stares, plus some very strange involuntary noises which puts the willies up everyone.

There are some lovely little turns too, the best being Richard Beanland‘s Lionel Frush (“son of the larger Frush”) who’s so needy it hurts. With his big smile plastered permanently on his face, and his habit of asking every woman he meets out – and getting rather too close to them in the process – he’s a comic delight straight out of Wodehouse.

PRINT-thark-press-191 May Keegan, Joanna Wake, Clive Francis, Andrew Jarvis, James Dutton, Sarah-Jayne Butler, John Wark photocredit Ben Broomfield

And there are some cracking lines too (“Unleash the sherry”), although whether Francis‘ or Travers‘ I’ve no idea, but there are also some stinkers as in the clash between Lionel and his mum as to whether it’s a vase or a vaise which ages the play terribly. Some of the aging process is fascinating though, as in Cherry’s use of the word ‘strong!’ when she hears something she likes, which I presume is the 1920’s version of our ‘fierce’.

The spooky aspects of the play are handled well considering how difficult it is to do ‘scary’ when the actors are practically on your lap as they are at the Park. Apparently, in the original 1925 production (which ran for nearly a year), actor-manager Tom Walls decided he wanted the loudest thunderclaps ever to have been heard on stage, so two dozen cannonballs he’d inveigled from the Tower were deployed to roll down a flight of stairs in the flies. That would certainly be a feat and a half if tried in the tiny Park.

I had warmed to Thark by its abrupt ending, due only to the lovely acting on show, but if you’re not a lover or farce, better to steer clear. If, however, you love it, you’ll adore this accomplished production.

And I must mention that the Park Theatre is wonderful. This was my first visit and it’s a lovely little place, with reasonably priced proper food (including some nice veggie options), really lovely staff, nice seating, fantastic air con, and a big old dog who seems to wander the place. It’s also literally 10 seconds from the tube and on the Victoria Line. Couldn’t be easier.

WHAT: Thark

WHERE: Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London

WHEN: Until September 22, various times

TICKETS: £12 – £19.50



WOULD I GO AGAIN: It’s a lark so probably yes, if the ticket were free