It’s Christmas Eve at the upper crust posho Jameson family’s country house. As far as butler Derek Fambridge is aware, the family won’t be coming home for Christmas, leaving him to woo Ms Stokes the housekeeper in peace while ditzy Mitsy the maid gets on with her own wooing of the household’s former employee, the equally ditzy Len.
Meanwhile, inept head of the household Carl Jameson is having an affair with estate agent (and neighbour) Jill Thorpe while his glamorous wife is having it off with their daughter’s (yes, their daughter’s!) daft fiancé… but chic daughter Kim is planning to ditch the daft fiancé anyway and elope with dashing Frenchman Claude DuBois instead.
If the secret to the art of good comedy is timing, the whole production acts as a masterclass on the genre
The Jameson family’s shenanigans are, of course, unbeknown to each other. So how do we know all about all the goings-on if the family aren’t in residence? Because, as it turns out, the Jamesons will be very much in residence after all: each couple has secretly planned to use their country home as a covert bolthole over Christmas. Can Fambridge keep each couple’s arrivals at the house secret from each other… and continue to keep them apart for the duration of their visit? Will he ever be rich enough to convince Ms Stokes to accept his marriage proposal and reveal her first name? And what on earth is Mrs Jameson planning to do with that pineapple…? Over to the highly-acclaimed New Old Friends theatre company to give us their own unique take on the Jameson family’s farcical dangerous liaisons.
If you’re familiar with the overall vibe of the back-to-basics Ustinov Studio setting, prepare to have your preconceptions challenged before the drama even begins: New Old Friends have used every inch of what’s usually a pared-down stage to cleverly recreate the grand entrance hall of a grand house complete with an upper-level mezzanine, balustrades, ionic columns and massive oak doors that open to reveal a massive snowstorm (plus, later on, three massively funny carol singers, a herd of reindeer, and more), all duly decorated for Christmas. Against the impressive backdrop, a cast of just four actors – impeccably directed by Feargus Woods Dunlop – introduce us to a roll call of 15+ characters, seamlessly (and apparently effortlessly, despite such an arduous task) working ensemble magic at every twist and turn of the twisty, turny plot.
If the secret to the art of good comedy is timing, the whole production acts as a masterclass on the genre: the action (plus lashings of quick-fire wit) keeps on coming thick and fast, with not a single line, step or character change out of place. There are elements of classic iconic comedy inspirations in the mix from Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies and Fawlty Towers to The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh by way of Vic and Bob and Acorn Antiques. But overall, this is entirely New Old Friends’ very own slick, imaginative, hilarious work, fresh and strong enough to earn themselves a place on the classic comedy Wall of Fame in their own right… and perfect for a Christmas getaway of your own; indeed, to miss out on seeing this glorious festive farce would be nothing less than a tragedy.
A Christmas Getaway is playing at the Ustinov Studio until 8 January. Tickets can be bought online at theatreroyal.org.uk.
Featured image: Sedona Rose (Mitsy Norton), Eamonn Fleming (Derek Fambridge), and Kirsty Cox (Ms Stokes) image credit: Pamela Raith photography