Theatre Funny Money Playhouse, London

'I have to admit I enjoyed the script's heroically awful jokes, released from the twilight home for retired double entendres'
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The Independent Culture
A Ray Cooney premiere at the Playhouse is not the sort of occasion where you'd expect to have a searing Proustian epiphany. The one that ambushed me (and, my God, does this date me) occurred quite early on in Act 1 of Cooney's new farce, Funny Money, at the point when Henry McGee, looking down from a great height on the diminutive, calm and implacably stubborn figure of Charlie Drake, rasped: "You are an insignificant little man."

Back from a lost file in Dame Memory's databank it all flooded: my childhood enthusiasm for a sitcom called The Worker. Every week it would end with Mr McGee's distraught Labour Exchange official hauling Charlie over the counter by the boiler-suit straps after the dismal failure of yet another attempt to keep him gainfully employed. Though he must be pushing 80 now, Mr Drake's abilities as a cherubic one-man awkward squad have not deserted him. They are exploited to amusing effect in this farce, where he plays a taxi-driver whose meter and whose memory for unfortunate "facts" tick on and on through all the twists and turns of these imposture-ridden shenanigans.

Funny Money tries to cash in on the old identical briefcase trick. Through a mix-up of this kind, a suburban wimp (played by the author) has come home with a shady pounds 735,000 in used banknotes. His attempts to fly off to a new life and identity in Barcelona keep getting obstructed, though, by everybody else in the cast: his wife Jean (Sylvia Syms), who wants to stay in Fulham; a crooked off-duty copper (Peter Ellis), who thought Henry's frequent trips to a public lavatory to re-count the dosh were for the purposes of homosexual soliciting; a naive, dutiful copper (Trevor Banister), who turns up with the other briefcase and with the news that "Henry" has been found trussed, shot and drowned; and a pair of married friends (Henry McGee and Lynda Baron), who had come for Henry's birthday dinner and find themselves called upon to impersonate a pair of made-up nudist-in-laws.

Tight plotting and rigorous logic are not this farce's forte. You feel that both coppers must be prone to intermittent bouts of catalepsy, so long are they prepared, on request, to stay put in side-rooms. I also expected that when the second copper brought Henry's wife the real briefcase, this would turn out to contain something more confusion-escalating than a cheese and chutney sandwich - the revelation, say, that her mousey spouse was into transvestite bondage. I have to admit, though, that I enjoyed the script's heroically awful jokes, many of which have been specially released back into the community from the twilight home for retired double entendres. The best and the daftest running gag involves Cooney and Henry McGee having to conceal the briefcase by getting under a blanket and pretending to be involved in a gay grope. Bob and Ted, without Carol and Alice, and as British and innocent as a McGill postcard.

n Booking: 0171-839 4401

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