Fresh from his recent success with The Pitch (starring himself) and The China Incident (with Anne Browning), Peter Houghton has now turned his literary talents to this bitingly sharp and satirical two hander. Premiering at the Malthouse Theatre, A Commercial Farce takes its swipe at commercial theatre and the joys and perils it contains.
The set up of any farce requires simplicity, with a small injection of essential angst for immediate comic bite. In this case enter Bill (Peter Houghton), a middle aged man, seemingly anxious about investing his life savings into a commercial comedy set to open the following night. Adding to this anxiety is his absence from his 20th wedding anniversary, a wife screaming ‘divorce!’ down the phone and the constant pressure of his disparaging father arriving the next day.
Far from solving the perils of his personal life, Bill instead is desperate to save his failing show – and has scheduled one last rehearsal with his leading actor, Jules (Luke Ryan), television star of top rating 'Murder Squad'.
Bill faces one huge problem - über-cool Jules was a name to sell tickets. What would he know about commercial farce?
What follows is one man’s frantic race to save his show, marriage and sanity as this television ‘it’ boy simply cannot comprehend why he has to slip on the banana peel, remember his entrances and play out mouth to mouth resuscitation with another worldlier actor, ‘She stinks man, she stinks like nuts.’
As Bill guzzles more and more of the sponsor’s wine and Jules takes a greater interest in Bill’s ‘real’ life, the staple diet of panic, fluster and outrage intensifies and becomes even more hilarious. The cliché jokes that are being directed and performed in the original farce cleverly begin to play out in Bill’s ‘real’ life. We become the audience he is wishing to impress, he becomes the fool he is seeking to direct. And that is the genius of Peter Houghton. His command of his comedy is unique and his personification of his characters’ farcical suffering is superbly crafted. His writing allows outstanding performances from both himself, the tormented idealist, and Luke Ryan, the narcissistic opportunist, while the script also provides a brilliant platform for director Aidan Fennessy to sharply articulate each comedic point without missing a beat.
Special mention should also go to all aspects of design. Anna Cordingley’s set design of swinging doors, crashing wardrobes and a full spiral staircase was remarkably clever and presented many hilarious moments. The sound and lighting design, by Ben Grant and Matt Scott respectively, complimented every inch of the on and off stage action and allowed strong springboards for the performers to play off.
John Mortimer once pointed out, ‘Farce is tragedy played at a thousand revolutions per minute.’ And nothing is truer in A Commercial Farce. Peter Houghton has nailed this recipe for success in his most recent piece – you can always depend on an audience laughing at the misfortune of others.
Malthouse Theatre presents
A Commercial Farce
by Peter Houghton
Directed by Aidan Fennessy
Venue: Beckett Theatre
Dates: June 5 – June 27