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Three Bags Full

by on 23 November 2018

Wool Over the Eyes

Three Bags Full

by Jerome Chodorov, based on a farce by Claude Magnier

Q2 Players at the National Archives, Kew, until 24th November

Review by Didie Bucknall

Quite properly, we have had plenty of sober theatrical offerings lately due to the commemoration of the end of WW1, so it is a joy to be presented with a rip roaring farce energetically performed by the Q2 Players.

The venue is a new one for Q2. The massive National Archives building has a smallish comfortable performance space. The scenery has to be mobile for easy removal as the space needs to be used for other purposes. In this instance, it enhanced the atmosphere of the play; the mobile flats painted in elegant Art Deco style delicately formed the backdrop to an elaborate Hampstead Heath house.

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Three Bags Full has nothing to do with sheep but plenty of wool surrounds the possibility of distinguishing the very different contents of three identical black holdall bags. The director’s notes liken the play to be somewhat in the vein of a Whitehall farce with larger-than-life characters pursuing perfectly plausible agendas, which seem completely reasonable to themselves but totally incomprehensible to each other. Chaos ensues as one might expect.

Farce needs to be played with balance and good timing, seemingly so easy, but in fact very difficult to achieve. The cast were more than equal to the task.

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The action takes place 1925 in the luxurious home of Bascom Barlow the successful entrepreneurial owner of the sports firm of Barlows, played by Hugh Cox. His long serving clerk, Richard Foyle (Neelaksh Sadhoo) arrives in great excitement and out of control on roller skates. He has spent £300 of the firm’s money on ordering more pairs of skates. He thinks Barlow will be delighted at his initiative. Barlow is furious. Unbeknownst to Foyle, Barlow has been granted a bank loan and is getting into serious debt. But all is well, according to Foyle, for over the years he has been stashing away small sums of money taken from the firm so he can hand back a considerable sum to his boss. But there is a proviso, first Barlow must give Foyle permission for him to marry his daughter. Barlow is livid and dismisses him on the spot. But he needs the money. The money is divided into diamonds and cash, each contained in two identical black holdall bags. The seemingly curious attitude of the downstairs maid so jaunty with her feather duster, played by Judy Ramjeet, becomes clearer as it emerges that she is secretly engaged to a rich banker’s eligible son. She too has been dismissed and has packed her belongings in, yes, you’ve guessed it, an identical black holdall bag.

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The plots muddle up. People are not who other people think they are. Lynne Harrison and Cat Lamin as mother and daughter, exotic in stunning period costumes, Dominic Upton as Boris the chauffeur a failed army recruit. At one stage he picks Foyle up and bodily throws him around. The unexpected arrival of Jeanette (Camilla Danson) and later, Charlotte Muir as her mother add to the confusion. The banker, Malcolm McAlister slipping on a discarded roller skate is put out of sorts and calls in his bank loan while his son, Paul Huggins drives his Aston Martin to and fro obligingly exchanging holdalls.

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The laconic butler Jenkins (Christopher Hodges) trudging wearily back and forth to answer the front door engages the audience with a shrug as if to say, I know I am living in a mad house, but that’s all part of the job.

This is a very strong cast, well-rehearsed and well directed by Tony Cotterill. If this was his first attempt at directing, let us hope that it will not be his last. There are some good performances and it would be invidious to pick any one out, and this includes backstage staff as the lighting, sound, set construction and costumes were excellent. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Didie Bucknall
November 2018

Photography by Rishi Rai Photography

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