Back in 1982, as an impecunious student, I used to get standby tickets at my local theatre, the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford. I’d turn up half an hour before the show and often get a seat in the stalls for £1.50. Happy days.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I got to see one of the very first performances of Ray Cooney’s Run For Your Wife. I’m pretty sure it was Cooney himself in the lead role. The show itself went on to run for eight years in the West End and has been seen all over the world.
Cut to 2019. Cooney – now 87 – is directing this latest revival of his biggest hit in the intimate surroundings of The Mill at Sonning. The humour may have dated somewhat, but Run For Your Wife remains a masterpiece of plot construction and comic timing.
The story itself centres around John Smith, a bigamist cabbie who has a wife, Mary, in Streatham and another wife, Barbara, in Wimbledon. He maintains his double life through a complicated timetable, but things go wrong when he ends up in hospital after a mugging.
Cooney has gathered a first class cast to bring his classic farce back to the stage.
Nick Wilton is likeably roguish as John, whose constant look of bewilderment-cum-panic is a source of much amusement. He shares a great chemistry with Jeffrey Holland (of Hi-de-Hi! fame), who plays Stanley, John’s neighbour in Streatham. I particularly enjoyed Holland’s scenes in which he has to pretend to be a farmer in order to back up John’s increasingly bizarre cover stories.
A lot of laughs come from confused telephone conversations involving John’s wives: Michelle Morris and Judy Buxton (as Mary and Barbara) bring these to life with an impressive repertoire of baffled expressions. As you might expect, there’s also plenty of door slamming and disrobing.
An excellent supporting cast includes Cooney regular David Warwick as the apron-wearing DS Porterhouse, Elizabeth Elvin as no-nonsense Sgt Troughton and Delme Thomas as John and Barbara’s gay neighbour Bobby.
A word on the wonderful attention to detail in Jackie Dougan’s Eighties set design: surely I wasn’t the only person to notice the little patches of Artex ceiling above the colourful walls? And those giant phones with aerials brought back many memories.
It may be almost 40 years since Ray Cooney started writing Run For Your Wife, but this production is proof he is still the Farce Meister-General.
Run For Your Wife is at the Mill at Sonning until 23 November