NOVEMBER 3-19, 2011
By Ben Travers
Fast-paced and full of witty repartee, this stylish 1920s British farce is comparable to the comedies of Travers’ contemporary, Noel Coward. On holiday at the Somerset seaside, two fn-loving young friends, Gerald and Clive, get caught in a tangled web of silly white lies and flirtatious innuendos. But what’s a gentleman to do when a pretty girl arrives in wet pyjamas seeking protection and a shoulder to cry on? With tyrannical Nosey Parkers for relatives and neighbourhood busybodies lurking in the kitchen (with the cat!), Gerald could find his six-week old marriage in the lurch!
The playwriting career of Ben Travers (1886-1980) was one of the longest and most successful in the history of theatre. After false starts in his family’s provisioning business and in publishing, and after service as a flying instructor during World War I, Travers pursued his dream of theatrical success by writing some comic novels and adapting them for the stage. While the first of these, The Dippers (1922), enjoyed some modest success, the second struck gold – though in a roundabout way.
The rights to Travers’ second play, A Cuckoo in the Nest, were originally optioned by a minor West End producer and later sold to a company specializing in farce at the Aldwych Theatre. Cuckoo opened to popular acclaim in July 1925 and ran almost a year. The Aldwych management quickly asked Travers for another farce, then another, then another. In all, there were nine of these Aldwych farces in nine years, the most popular of which were Cuckoo, Rookery Nook (1926), Thark (1927) and Plunder (1928). They had lengthy runs – almost 2700 performances in all – and spawned multiple touring companies. They made stars of actor- manager Tom Walls and regular cast members Ralph Lynn, Mary Brough, and Robertson Hare, and they quickly became staples of regional professional and amateur companies throughout the English-speaking world.
Travers made a successful shift into screenwriting in the 1930s, while occasionally writing more stage farces such as Banana Ridge (1938), Spotted Dick (1939), and Outrageous Fortune (1947). In 1976 – his ninetieth year – and after decades of relative obscurity, Travers enjoyed his best-ever year in the theatre, with three plays running simultaneously in the West End: a new farce The Bed Before Yesterday (starring Joan Plowright), a commercial revival of Banana Ridge (starring Robert Morley), and a revival of Plunder at the Old Vic and the new National Theatre. Travers revelled in his surprising resurgence, and was honoured with the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
In an obituary in 1980, the London Times noted: “[Farce] can be one of the happiest of theatrical forms. It is also among the most difficult to write. Ben Travers, undeniably, was the twentieth century’s chief practitioner.”
Since emigrating from England in 1973, Bindon has been Assistant General Manager of The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, the Artistic Director of The Nanaimo Theatre Festival, Associate Production Manager of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the XV Commonwealth Games, and founding director of the Parliamentary Players in Victoria. He is currently the Theatre Manager and an instructor with the Department of Theatre, University of Victoria. He has acted, designed and directed shows in England, Madeira and Canada, including Colours In The Storm, The Days of the Commune, The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew, Hay Fever, Blithe Spirit, The Suicide, Rodgers & Hart, The Pirates of Penzance, Round and Round the Garden, Loot and Peter Pan (which he also co-directed for CHEK TV). He also created and directed the musical All Aboard! with colleague Dale McIntosh.
Why does a director choose a particular play to direct? Well, not all directors are so lucky as to be able to choose. Most may be asked to direct a play already chosen; it may even be cast for them. I was lucky. Not only was I able to choose Rookery Nook and cast it, but I’ve had the support of colleagues throughout.
Before I came to the University of Victoria in 1973, Rookery Nook was one of the first plays I worked on professionally in England, so it seems appropriate at this stage in my career to direct it. I love the silliness of the English farce, which delights by violating ‘sacred cows’ turning them into comic situations. I have been thrilled with the ability of our actors and production team to embrace this genre with their youthfulness and talent so we can all enjoy a good laugh. Ben Travers brings ‘pure and simple’ farce to the stage and it is this that we want to create for you tonight.
Farce in the 1920s was a mockery of familiar characters and situations known to the audience from outside the play itself, such as interfering busybodies and insignificant twits. It used ‘types’ who lack flexibility and are dominated by a rigid mindset. It is the inelasticity of these types that prevents them from adapting to situations and, so, they become targets for ridicule. Farce favours direct, visual and physical jokes over flowery dialogue, treading a thin line between offence and entertainment. Farce is not slapstick, although that is an important component. Farce is not satire, although satire might make use of farcical techniques.
Farce has changed considerably since the 1960s. Joe Orton (e.g. Loot and What The Butler Saw) casts dark shadows and forces the audience to wake up to the conundrums of life today. Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and Mr. Bean use farce to mock the pretensions of class-status and the oddities of the British way-of-life. However, the comic tone is no longer pure and simple, it has transformed itself into satirical, ‘in-group’ joking.
But that is now, Rookery Nook is then, and it’s the then that we are trying to discover and recreate for you tonight – FARCE, ‘pure and simple’.
November 3-19, 2011
Previews @ 8pm: November 1 & 2
Evenings @ 8pm: November 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19
Matinee @ 2pm: November 19
FREE Pre-Show lecture: LISTEN NOW!
Recorded Friday, November 4 @ 7 pm
with Dr. Denis Johnson, UVic grad and former Audience Outreach Director for the Shaw Festival
Rookery Nook was the second of nine “Aldwych farces,” a series of comedies by Ben Travers that included some of London’s most popular plays of the 1920s and ’30s. Dr. Denis Johnston will give an introduction to the play, the author, and the team that created this phenomenal series at the Aldwych Theatre.
Sign Language Interpretation: Saturday, November 19 @ 2pm
We are pleased to present this play with Sign Language Interpretation featuring international Deaf interpreter, presenter and performer Nigel Howard and hearing interpreter Jen Ferris. To order tickets for this performance, fill out and return this form.
Box Office: Opens October 25, 201
For ticket prices or subscription opportunities, click here.
Cast & Creative
Directed by Bindon Kinghorn
Set Designer Jessica P. Wong
Costume Designer Kat Jeffery
Lighting Designer Bryan Kenney
Sound Designer Neil Ferguson
Stage Manager Caitlinn O’Leary
Assistant Lighting Designer Denay Amaral
Hayley Feigs (Gertrude Twine)
Alex Frankson (Putz)
Chelsea Graham (Mrs. Possett)
Brooke Haberstock (Poppy Dickey)
Alysson Hall (Clara Popkiss)
Lucas Hall (Harold Twine)
Taryn Lees (Rhoda Marley)
Jonathan Mason (Clive Popkiss)
Derek Wallis (Gerald Popkiss)
Simon Walter (Admiral Juddy)
Breanna Wise (Mrs. Leverett)
Produced by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. New York City