‘Panic Stations’ is a very funny farce, written by Bradford born playwright, Derek Benfield. Derek, who died in 2009 aged 83, wrote more than two dozen farces, but is probably better known for his acting part as Patricia Routledge’s husband in ‘Hetty Wainthropp Investigates’.
This two and a half hour production is one part of a trilogy, featuring the ill-fated ‘Chester Dreadnought’; it is showing at the Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street, Guildford.
The performances are nightly at 8.00 pm on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday until Saturday 14th February. There are Sunday matinees at 2.00 pm.
The set is the interior of a rundown, country cottage. A very good Tudor-style set (Fred Petersen, Keith and Heather Abbott, Peter Gilberthorpe). It is a sitting room with front door leading directly into the room. There is a staircase going to the upstairs bedrooms.
The décor is complete with cobwebs; you could sense the neglect.
The curtains rise as a massive flash of lightning illuminates the dark room. The sound of thunder and pouring rain can be heard (superb effects – Geoff Holt). There is a pounding on the front door. A scruffy, elderly yokel staggers down the stairs muttering, this Abel Bounty (Keith Abbott) the local handyman. Along with his unkempt wife (Ann Speicher), he has been hired by the new owners to clean out the remote house that has stood empty for a decade.
He opens the door and the posh new owner, Chester Dreadnought (Graham Miles) staggers in with his suitcase. As the two introduce themselves, a voluptuous woman in a black silk chemise comes down the stairs and warmly hugs Chester. ‘Who is this woman?’ thinks Chester. Could this be Carol (Fiona Forster) a one-night stand from a few months ago?
The front door opens and to Chester’s horror his loving wife, Patricia (Joy Norton) enters with a leather suitcase. To make things worse, his toffee-nosed mother, Lady Elrood (Marsha Holt) is close behind. There is a massive explosion heard from outside and the eccentric and senile, Lord Elrood (Ray Egan) rushes in with a double barrel shotgun in his hand. Still thinking that he is a General at war, he is worried by the presence of Sergeant Everest (John Forde) and his troops in the surrounding forest.
As they talk, an old dear who is in touch with the spirits, Miss Partridge (Heather Abbott) wanders into the house, almost unaware of the crowd of people, she is far more interested in the building itself.
Like most farces, the confusion and disasters rely upon people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, in this play hapless Chester tries to talk himself out of various situations, only to dig himself in even further.
The play is directed by the talented master of farces, award-winning director, Fred Petersen. Fred has selected an excellent cast. Every actor understood their richly written persona exactly; all being very different and well defined. The costumes (no credit in programme) were exceptional and captured the characters perfectly. It was great teamwork and they all conquered the genre.
I saw the opening night, and with the complex script there were a few first night nerves, but within minutes the cast got into the flow, and by the end the farce was perfectly paced and bringing plenty of laughs.
A quality farce from a brilliant team.