The play starts with the two actors either side of the stage lying on old iron-framed beds while the audience comes in. The scenery was starkly realistic, representing a basement with a dirty rubbish-scattered floor, cracked white tiles on the wall, and the iron dumb waiter door in the middle of the wall. It starts off quite slowly with one of the actors 'waking up' while the other continues to read his newspaper. They appear to be waiters waiting for a job to start, but as the hour progresses and we get more details we realise they're actually hit men. We also find out that the last job involved killing a woman which disturbed them both, although Gus (Lee Evans) the subordinate appears to have been more shocked by it. This sounds very glum, but the way the play is structured with increasingly bizarre food orders arriving in the dumb waiter builds up into a brilliant comic routine, until it ends with the inevitable bleakness of the job which needs to be done.
Lee Evans is, of course, best known as a Norman Wisdom style comedian, and he used a lot of that slapstick physicality although not to extremes so he remained a real character. And in his serious scenes he was very believable, particularly in conveying his distress at the woman's death. Since you don't really expect a comedian to be a good serious actor (mostly because they're never offered the parts to show what they can do) his part was the most notable, but Jason Isaacs also turned in a moving performance of a man on the edge of losing it - and did show a dab hand at the comedy sections as well.
I and my friends went off to Wagamama's where we were able to beat the evening rush. I had one of the 'teppan' dishes which are based on thick fried noodles, and which are slightly more manageable to eat than the soup and rice dishes - although I still asked for cutlery :-) We had some of the side dishes and managed a dessert as well. All the sweets were luscious but the most interesting was the chocolate fudge cake with a chocolate-wasabi sauce, which worked surprisingly well.
Then we went on to the next play Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti. I remember seeing and enjoying the film for this (starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis) years ago. They had updated it slightly to lose some of the more obscure references, but kept the sixties setting so we were always aware of the period in which it was set. The scenery was again an integral part of the play, with one main minimalist room in white (and many, many doors - it is a farce after all!) accented by the colours of the three air hostesses uniforms, and all with wonderful sixties decor. It starred Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Mark Rylance, Daisy Beaumont, Michelle Gomez and Tamzin Outhwaite who I think were all uniformly good, although some parts had more material to work with than others. I was interested to see Michelle Gomez in action, since I only knew her vaguely as Jack Davenport's wife and that she had done comedy on TV, but none that I'd seen. She was superbly physical and exuberant, and deservedly received some of the biggest laughs.
Frances de la Tour on the other hand was very understated in her acting (or gave that impression) but the merest hesitation could provoke a burst of laughter. There was one scene with her and Mark Rylance sitting together where they're both contemplating the disaster that is about to fall, which was a pearl of restrained hysteria. Farce is one of my favourite forms of comedy, and this was an excellent example of the genre.
It happened to be my birthday yesterday, although it wasn't the main reason for going to the theatre - that was mostly due to the matinee falling on a Wednesday - and it was a great day out. One of the my friends gave me a gorgeous bouquet of flowers which came with its own neat, square carrier bag so it was easy to carry, and this gave a delightful note of eccentricity to the day. Exemplified by when I was leaving our seats after the first play, and swung the bag past the lady at the end of the row. With wonderful timing she placed a hand on her chest and said, "For me? You shouldn't have." And much hilarity was had by all.