Small wonders from See How They Run (review)

See How They Run

Generally short actors have found their career choices fairly limited to playing hi-ho Xmas panto or the occasional stint in a Harry Potter or Star Wars movie. Unless you’re Peter Dinklage.

So no wonder a frustrated Warwick Davis has decided to do something about it. After all, just because you’re under 4ft 2ins doesn’t mean you can’t play mainstream theatre.

The Life’s Too Short star has launched The Reduced Height Theatre Company with a (short) national tour of the vintage wartime farce See How They Run.

It opened at Wycombe Swan last night and it’s no small exaggeration to say it was a hoot.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the cast, veterans of, yes, Christmas pantos and Potter films, are naturals at comedy. But, I’m ashamed to say, I had no idea that they were such consummate actors.

Is the farce made funnier because the company are uniformly short? I’d say it was more that their timing is impeccable, the slapstick effortless and their energy boundless.

It’s 1944 and Davis plays the Rev Lionel Toop, vicar in Merton-cum-Middlewick who, shockingly, has married a rather glamorous and brazen blonde actress called Penelope.

There’s an escaped German prisoner on the loose, the bishop is coming to stay, the village battleaxe takes a liking to alcohol and Pen is caught grappling with a strange man.

Mayhem ensues with countless cases of mistaken identity, a swing door, a lot of booze drunk, and Mr Davis, also the show’s producer, at one point running around in his underwear brandishing a “rod of iron”.

The whole thing is delightfully silly.

The star of the show is Francesca Mills who plays Ida The Maid. Her accent varies from Cockney to Brum, and all stations in-between, but she’s on fire as she tries to make sense of the comings and goings at the vicarage.

Ida’s machine-gun laugh and irrepressible personality is infectious. It’s no wonder Penny’s actor friend, Clive (Phil Holden), announces that he’s in love with her. It’s impossible not to be.

Director Eric Potts has put his years of experience writing, directing and performing panto, into giving the public what they want. An exuberant, sometimes a little overly so, face-paced comedy that’s tall on laughs and short on plot.

The first act does whip itself up to become so frenetic that the cast are almost hysterically screaming out their lines. No-one wants to put the brakes on the laughter but it could be reined in a tad.

There is a prudence of vicars dashing about the place, a drunk old bird fainting every few minutes and Pen Toop (Rachel Denning) trying to make sense of it all…just who is that last man dressed as a vicar who is chasing everyone?

Peter Bonner makes an engaging cameo as a bluff army sergeant while Francesca Papagno is much too young to be burdened with the old biddy turn of Miss Skillon.

Written by the king of classic farce, Philip King, and widely acknowledged as being the best there is, it is a perfect opening showcase for this little known company. I hope we see more of them in the future.

Playing until Saturday and touring until May.

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