Caught in the Net, Vaudeville Theatre, London

Farce master Sykes emerges as only net gain
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The Independent Culture

So farce arrives at the internet age. Always forced into uneasy contrivances to create the coincidence that triggers the crisis, the master farceur can now simply rely on the infinite mix-and-match possibilities of the World Wide Web. Thus the two children from each of John's bigamous marriages meet online – our dads have the same name, amazing!

Of course, this new hi-tech world isn't all roses: Ray Cooney has also been forced to create the only two teenagers in Greater London without mobile phones. A quick one-2-one between these two and the plot would be gone in a puff of Brian Rix's trousers.

But this internet kick-off turns out to be the only concession to modernism in Cooney's latest, a sequel to his dangerously successful Run For Your Wife. Except maybe he has caught the modern eagerness to accelerate: his production is played at uniformly, unremittingly breakneck speed.

Hearing the two kids are to meet – these are also teenagers who invite each other round to tea and require parental permission so to do – Robert Daws, a versatile character actor, spends the next two hours yelling and sweating and conniving to keep them apart. He is aided throughout by his unwilling lodger, Russ Abbot, who manages to introduce a smidgen of character by being, well, unwilling. How I longed for them to just occasionally hold back, pause momentarily – it might have made the next line funnier, let alone characterful.

Meanwhile, the two kids and two wives play the solid stooges: the sort who have their shoulders swivelled and their bodies pushed reluctantly, yet so easily, through doors, the sort who can be told people are dead or doing yoga, the sort who run in horror from homosexuality. How smoothly and gullibly they believe it all – and the twist at the end, while cunning, doesn't really justify any of it.

No, no, stop me now. I'm quibbling. I could quibble for hours. But the fact is nearly all the audience were laughing nearly all the time. If you leave at home your knowledge of the past 30 years of comedy, you'll have a good time. Don't expect characterisation, don't expect revelation or reality.

Put it another way, this isn't the sort of play you would ever want to see twice – except for one true gem. Arriving in the second half, Eric Sykes, as Russ Abbot's doolally dad, is a zimmerframed treasure. Genuinely in his own world, he suddenly introduces his anti-timing into this maelstrom of gag and counter-gag. It's a joy to behold. I don't think it would be half as funny with anyone else delivering the lines. But who cares?

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