In Review

Jack Absolute Flies Again: a ‘crowd-pleasing comedy’ with an excellent cast

National Theatre production has the same ‘giddy abandon’ as One Man, Two Guvnors

“So, comic lightning does strike twice,” said Nick Curtis in the London Evening Standard. A decade ago Richard Bean created one of the National Theatre’s biggest ever hits by taking an 18th century classic comedy, The Servant of Two Masters, and reworking it as One Man, Two Guvnors, set in 1960s Brighton.

In conjunction with Oliver Chris, who starred in that show, Bean has now pulled off something “every bit as uproarious and ribald” by transposing Sheridan’s The Rivals from Regency Bath to a country house in Sussex, where an RAF squadron has been stationed during the Battle of Britain. It has the “same ungoverned humour, giddy abandon and metatheatrical playfulness” as One Man, Two Guvnors. But it is also “its own thing” – skewering “British class-consciousness and exceptionalism, as well as sexism, xenophobia and ‘warstalgia’”.

I found Guvnors wearying, said Clive Davis in The Times. But I loved this “joyous romp”, which is well anchored by Caroline Quentin’s “adorable, potty-mouthed” Mrs Malaprop. She has some wonderful moments, said Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail, such as when she revives her character’s music-hall pre-history, singing with a soprano warble while accompanying herself on the ukulele.

In fact, the whole cast of this “crowd-pleasing comedy” is excellent, including Laurie Davidson as our “plucky pipe-sucking hero” Jack, who is in hot pursuit of Lydia (Natalie Simpson), a member of the resident Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. It’s pacily staged by director Emily Burns, and the dialogue is a “blizzard of bawdy Carry-On innuendo”.

I could have done with rather fewer “nudge-nudge wink-wink” gags and malapropisms, said Fiona Mountford in The Daily Telegraph. They became tiresome after a while. And although the script’s “arch knowingness” is amusing, it stops us caring about the characters.

Ultimately, the play has neither much emotional weight nor real satirical message, said Andrzej Lukowski on Time Out. It is “very funny”, but it’s no more “than the sum of its laughs”.

Olivier, National Theatre, London SE1 (nationaltheatre.org.uk). Until 3 September

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