For a flavour of Victorian-farce drollery, point your snouts toward Brighton, where they have revived 1887 comedy Dandy Dick.
Its author, Arthur Wing Pinero, was the Alan Ayckbourn of his day. The play, directed here with respectful glee by Christopher Luscombe, creaks like new brogues.
Eyes bulge as the curtain descends on the acts. Chests are clutched, asides rendered with vampish theatricality. Prolixity abounds!
Japery: Patricia Hodge and Nicholas Le Prevost in the classic Victorian tale Dandy Dick
If it seems to lack much of a social message, that is perhaps because the thought of a sporting parson (ie. a vicar who follows horse racing) is no longer shocking.
Instead, we can just sit back and enjoy the harmless japery, plus the sight of Patricia Hodge as a nostril-flaring horseflesh maniac. Miss Hodge’s Georgiana is the middle-aged sister of the Very Rev Augustin Jedd (Nicholas Le Prevost).
Georgiana descends on the deanery to stay — just in time for the races.
Her vocabulary peppered with horsey words (food is ‘nosebag’),Georgiana is a super part. Miss Hodge could up the thigh-slapping a notch or two.
The dean is short of money, and a ruse is concocted for him to raise funds by gambling on Georgiana’s horse, Dandy Dick. The dean slips into the stables at night to give Dandy a pick-me-up, is mistaken for a knave and lands up in the cell of local copper Noah Topping (Matt Weyland, very good).
Is the dean doomed? Not if PC Topping’s big-hearted wife (Rachel Lumberg) can help it.
I’m not sure I split my sides but I had a good time.
Here is a farce without a single pair of dropped trousers. Yet the drawing room’s French windows are still integral to the plot.
In place of naked bottoms, the baring here is of a dean’s anxieties. ‘My dignity,’ he gasps, ‘that priceless possession of man’s middle age.’
It’s all strenuously non-intellectual — no wonder Pinero enraged clever-clogs G. B. Shaw — and the only message at the end is that ‘there is no harm in laughter’. Quite right!