A Bit of Slap and Tickle

So full confession…I have not seen that much of OLT’s current season. Other than the mighty STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, I’ve missed just about the whole dang thing. No excuses, although I WAS there recently for an audition (missed Sylvia by thaaaat much) and a comedy concert from Doug Stanhope, who is just about the walking, talking opposite of the Ottawa Little Theatre, so that was merry fun.

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Not that Doug can’t be theatrical in his own way.

But since I don’t share Stanhope’s utter, palpable disdain for live theatre, and I needed to get my writing and reviewing musclulature back in shape for the impending Fringe, the latest show from Ottawa Little Theatre came like a gift from the gods. I headed out, swung by the weird bookstore and picked up a cool old paperback copy of Tarzan (totally unrelated sidebar) before finding myself at opening night for their latest, MOVE OVER MRS.MARKHAM, directed by the awesome Venetia Lawless. A classic British farce from writers Ray Cooney and John Chapman, the action takes place in a posh London flat in the swing’ sixties…okay, technically 1970, but there’s a lava lamp, so there. The plot is as thus…Mrs.Joanna Markham and her hubby Philip (Jenny Sheffield and Guy Newsham) are stuck in a bit of a rut. Philip spends all his time poring over children’s books with his partner Henry Lodge (Dave Coleman), and she’s bored enough to hire a flamboyant decorator (Phillip Merriman) to update their stodgy home. Things get cooking pretty quickly when Henry’s wife Linda (Linda Webster) suspects her hubby of cheating and opts for a bit of tit for tat, Slyvie the maid (Joey McDougall) fancies the decorator, an ominous game of phone tag with a mysterious Mrs.Smythe ensues, and before you can say ‘Mother Goose’ we’re off to the farces. Seriously, this show farces HARD. They should rename this show THE FARCE AND THE FURIOUS.

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A quiet moment (for this show). Pic by Maria Vartanova.

It’s pretty much impossible to delve deeper into plot without giving away the goofy, loopy twists and miscommunications that follow, as once it gets started MRS MARKHAM does not let up. The comedic pace is so relentless it’s almost exhausting, but well worth it. This is an impressively talented cast Lawless has assembled, and they shine on Tom Pidgeon’s too-cool set. Sheffield and Newsham anchor all the action admirably as our somewhat hapless but well-intentioned lead couple, buffeted into their own personal revelations by the winds of mistaken identity. Coleman as Henry is a wonderful slice of self-loving smarm, and Merriman gets not only a metric ton of fantastic comic material to steal scenes with, but maybe the best outfit I’ve seen on stage in a while (I kinda want it…shoutout to designer Peggy Campbell). There are also wonderful second-act entries by Sam Hanson, Lindsay Boileau and Janet Uren who all score big and get the plot boiling even frothier than before. It all ends up as a sexy, side-splitting disaster that may honestly merit a second viewing just to keep track of all the double entendres.

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Whatever you think he’s saying, you’re wrong.  Pic by Maria Vartanova.

Quick note amidst the praise, however, that the script does contain a few rather dated and politically incorrect references to homosexuality that may not sit well with some, played tho they are for laughs in an intentionally lightweight romp. FYI…it proved not much more than a momentary distraction for me, the more sensitive among you are hereby forewarned This is probably my last bit of non-Fringe writing for a while, so thanks to Ottawa Little Theatre for making it such a fun one. If you’re looking for a bit of well-timed, well-acted, occasionally acrobatic laugh-out-loud action, this is probably what you need. And who doesn’t need all that? Peace, love and soul,
Kevin R

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