Reviving his own political comedy Two Into One at the Menier Chocolate Factory, legend of farce Ray Cooney invites us to check in to the Westminster Hotel. Its design (fantastically executed by Julie Godfrey) is full on ’80s nostalgia but the goings on are a lot more naughty than nice. We spend the afternoon dashing between rooms 650 and 648 following the extramarital exploits of Junior Conservative MP Richard (ahem) Willey (Michael Praed) and his glamorous lady of leisure wife Pamela (Josefina Gabrielle).
In town on parliamentary business, Richard plans to use the opportunity to have a fling with the beautiful Jennifer (Kelly Adams), one of Mrs Thatcher’s secretaries, while Pamela catches a matinee of ‘Evita’. The absurd lengths Richard will go to for his lunchtime liaison soon transpire, though it falls to his long suffering personal assistant George Pigden (Nick Wilton) to arrange everything and deal with the fallout when the plan goes spectacularly wrong. Wilton’s turn as Pigden steals the show as he sweats buckets trying to keep a hold on a situation spiralling out of control and finds himself hiding behind a newspaper, hopping into bed himself, and stripped down to his pants in front of a formidable Labour battleaxe (Jean Fergusson). The performances are outrageously funny and well-delivered all round. Cooney himself even makes an appearance as a bumbling, octogenarian kung-fu waiter, a role just as ridiculous as it sounds. The opening half hour feels a little slow but by the end you’re left with aching ribs.
The farfetched gags and misunderstandings of Two Into One have wonderfully silly consequences including Cossack dancing, at least half a dozen fake names and rumours of a gay affair with a tea boy from the Foreign Office. Add to this chaos a soundtrack of exaggerated door slamming and you have the formula for a near-perfect farce. My only complaint is that, if anything, there was too much laughing. The long guffaws from the benches of the Menier drowned out a lot of the disapproving manager’s lines, sadly diminishing this character (played by an admirably straight-faced Jeffrey Holland) – though at least we still got to hear that ingenious line of his: “There’s far too much sex in this hotel and I’m not having any of it!”.
In any other sub-genre of comedy theatre the near -corpsing of an actor might be a death blow but in farce this just makes the audience roar louder. Half the fun of the second half was in wondering whether Michael Praed would be able to hold in the giggles long enough to deliver the rest of his lines. Cooney’s script leaves no loose end untied and watching the storylines come together neatly at the end is a very satisfying breed of comedy. While Two Into One might not be the slickest of farces it certainly delivers on laughs and it’s impossible not to revel in its silliness.