Pamela Rabe in "See How They Run"

Farce is old but still lots of fun

Back in 1945, when Philip King’s knock-about farce See How They Run was first staged in London, the play was described as “the funniest farce of the century”.

It is, indeed, an amusing farce, but now, almost 40 years on, the enthusiasm of 1945 seems a trifle extreme.

As it approaches middle age, the play is beginning to creak a bit at the joints. Some of the things that shocked the original audience into helpless laughter — the sight of a clergyman in his underpants, a glimpse of an old lady’s bloomers, intimations of adul-tery — no longer have the force they once had. We have seen it all, and worse, much worse.

Nevertheless, the old play still has a talent to amuse, as members of the Playhouse Theatre Company demon-strated Saturday evening when their producion of See How They Run was launched at the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse.

Pamela Rabe & Roger Hodgman 1982

See How They Run is Roger Hodgman’s farewell production as Playhouse artistic director and he will have the satisfaction of leaving them laughing.

Hodgman has a good eye for knock-about farce and he knows that in a play of this kind what you see is quite as important as what you hear. Indeed, stage business — pratfalls, frantic chases, bumps on the head, falling trousers — is the essential element in any successful farce production.

The Playhouse See How They Run contains almost enough giddy business to satisfy The Crazy Gang or Jimmy Edwards and Co. At the same time, Hodgman has been wise enough to assemble a cast that knows how to play out all the madness with more or less straight faces.

The characters in a farce do not know that their situation is farcical. To them, it is a nightmare. Only the audience is in on the whole joke.

The Playhouse ensemble handles the material with giddy ease. Especially effective are the sublime Henry Woolf as The Bishop of Lax, Susan Williamson as a pillar of the church who comes to grief over a glass of cooking sherry, Tom Wood, at his most engagingly innocent as a hapless soldier in priest’s clothing, and Pamela Rabe as a cheeky maid.

See How They Run may not be the “greatest farce of the century”, but, as the chap said, it is a lot better than a slap across the face with a dead fish or a cream pie — and far funnier. Give it a chance.


Source: The Vancouver Sun | 15 February 1982

Photos by Dan Scott and Dave Paterson