by Peter Shaffer
Black Comedy is an unusual play in which light and dark are reversed on the stage; when the lights go out for the characters they come on for the audience. This is an idea borrowed from classical Chinese opera when duels supposed to be taking place in total darkness are hilariously re-enacted by two men with much ducking, wild thrusting and bumping into each other.
Black Comedy develops this tradition in one of the most hilarious displays of pure comic invention ever seen on the stage. The scene is sculptor Brindsley Miller’s flat where he has to cope, not only with an electrical failure, but the simultaneous presence of a deb fiancée, her irate military father, a neighbour from whom he has borrowed some expensive antiques and his former girl-friend. And, as his guests fumble in the dark in full view of the audience, the wit of the dialogue complements the physical situation in which they find themselves.
Ovation Productions’ revival of Peter Shaffer’s classic comedy is a total success from start to finish. The whole cast extracts the full potential for humour from both the odd situation and the cleverly funny script. For in this play, light and dark are reversed, light on stage denoting the characters are literally in darkness. The virtually endless possibilities for confusion and misunderstanding, doubled by the desperate situation of the young sculptor entertaining his fiancée and her angry father while awaiting a millionaire patron, only to be caught by his ex-girlfriend, provide constant hilarity.
Tim Berrington as young artist Brindsley stumbles around in highly entertaining style (his moving the furniture sequence is particularly funny), Finty Williams is splendidly jolly as deb Carol, Victoria Jeffrey excels as the vengeful Clea, and Frank Ellis plays the testy Colonel with steam coming out of his ears. Di Langford delights as the abstaining Miss Furnival mixing her drinks in the dark, while Alan Helm constantly amuses as the gay neighbour. One of the funniest scenes is when James Rowe as the electricity repair man trained in German philosophy is fawningly assumed to be the long-awaited millionaire art collector.
Under Simon Slater’s faultless direction the pace never slackens in this altogether crackling comedy performance.
Peter Shaffer’s chaotic comedy of things going bump in the dark seems to have lost none of its appeal. Here a capable company handles it with the appropriate suavity, even if it does not always do full justice to its light and shade.
Tim Berrington is excellent as Brindsley, the hapless sculptor whose chances to impress a millionaire art collector and his fiancée’s father go disastrously downhill when the main fuse blows.
Alan Helm, as his neighbour Harold Gorringe, is superbly camp. His reaction on discovering that his much-prized antique furniture has been incorporated into Brindsley’s attempt at charade is a joy to watch, and displays an absolute mastery of the comic tragedy.
Every now and again the Fringe uncovers a nugget of gold that shines brighter than any other, writes our Fringe diarist.
Ironically perhaps, this is definitely the case with Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy where light and dark are reversed for audience and cast.
Revising an age-old Chinese operatic ploy when the lights go out for the characters they go on for the cast this unexpected stage illusion creates an almost farcical situation of riotous humour in a laughter-packed show of comic chaos.
Shaffer is much better known for, dare I say it, darker pieces like the wonderful Equus but here he shows he also has a talent for producing the light-hearted as well.
Written in the middle of the swinging 60s, Black Comedy has lost none of its effect through time and indeed the show’s superb cast bring out its best in a carefully honed and constructed production.
Black Comedy stars Tim Berrington as Brindsley the manic sculptor who carves out a special niche in the world of chaotic capers.
He is ably supported by other well-known small screen faces like Di Langford, James Row, Alan Helm as the over-the-top neighbour Harold Gorringe and Frank Ellis as the mad major. Black Comedy also provides an excellent showcase for the talents of actresses Finty Williams and Victoria Jeffrey whose comic timing is without fault.
This is a revival of Peter Shaffer’s unusual comedy in which light and dark are reversed. When the characters are lit, the stage is black-out, and when the electricity fuses, they’re plunged into the whitest of lights.
The play centres around Brindsley, a struggling artist, and his whining fiancée. The lights go out and their neighbours crowd in, swiftly followed by an increasingly angry father and two equally irate Germans. Predictably, mayhem ensues.
Each member of the cast performs to perfection, coping easily with the darkness on the crowded stage. The plot is fraught with misunderstanding and deliberate deceit, but is beautifully delivered by the experienced cast.
This is a well-directed piece of theatre, hilarious physical, farcical comedy with a charmingly elaborate set.