Donkey's Years, Comedy Theatre, London

It's not clever, but it's funny
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Heaven forfend that anyone should suggest an Oxbridge education might dwindle into little more than a farce, but Michael Frayn merrily makes so bold in this college reunion comedy written in the 1970s.

Everything seems idyllically serene in Jeremy Sams' revival as David Haig's Headingley, now Minister for Education, is shown to his old rooms, pausing in the sandstone quad (a splendid castellated imitation by Peter McKintosh) and declaring that nothing has changed. The chaos that ensues spins round the fact that his observation both is and isn't true. He is joined by his chum, Buckle (affable Michael Simkins), sourpuss Quine (a weasely James Dreyfus), the bumptiously camp Sainsbury (a wearisome Michael FitzGerald), and the formerly promiscuous Lady Driver (a brusque Samantha Bond). Soon this supposedly civilized bunch are soused, running amok and ruining their reputations.

It must be said, this farce never reaches quite such ingeniously structured giddy heights as Frayn's Noises Off. As academic comedies go, there's also stiff competition from Alan Bennett, Christopher Hampton et al. The hints of serious menace prove merely a tease and no-one's got anything clever to say. However, the drunken gibberish that Simkins talks is a delightful post-Chekhovian joke. The climactic insanity is also worth waiting for, as Haig - with a slipped disc and a scandal hidden in his bedroom - scutters around with his trousers round his ankles.

To 29 July, 0870 060 6637