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Pass the Salt

Dir. Simon Lamb and Andrew Illsley

***

Pass the Salt: A Play Peppered With Humour does very well in delivering the humour promised in the title.

The action of this ‘ensemble farce’, written by Simon Lamb, who also stars and co-directs, takes place in an Italian restaurant over a single evening. Two hapless waiters hide an unnamed white powder in a salt shaker, fearing the arrival of a drug baron. Various other characters — a restaurant critic, a theatre critic, an elderly couple — add flavour to the chaos that ensues in this classic farce when the saltshaker containing the ‘drugs’ is misplaced.

The production is wonderfully camp from the outset (referencing One Direction and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) and Lamb, his co-director Illsley (who also stars), and producer Neil Christy create a delightful warmth in the chaos that might easily have become irritating, especially in such a large venue.

A clever use of minimalist stage dressing allows the many fine performances to make a strong impact. Helena Jacques-Morton as Tina the Cleaner, whose ever-present headphones ensure she remains comically oblivious to the farce around her, was a clever touch. Particularly impressive were Lamb and Annabella Fraser, who play the elderly couple with striking accuracy. In addition Philip Cleary, as the camp Scottish waiter Fletcher, acts with a pantomime-dame demeanour and his conspiratorial nods to the audience à la Oliver Hardy are very well received. Though the pairing of Harshad Sambamurthy and Ali Duncan-Young as the feared critics is good, the show is almost stolen from under their noses by Alistair Cobbold, who, as failed actor Teddy Cotton, is endearingly hilarious throughout.

Though this was a production in which the physical comedy was largely excellent, a few performances were a little less than convincing. Tara Rose Cassano, playing Cotton’s writer, has a firm grasp of comic timing but teeters on the edge of melodrama on more than one occasion. And while Joseph Hartropp’s restaurant owner is full of energy (and sports an impressive beard), he comes over as French rather than the intended Italian. Perhaps his repeated references to the Disney waiter Lumière momentarily confused him.

One major flaw in the production lies in the inclusion of a ‘baddie’, Mr Mountlaveski, played by Illsley, whose role seems entirely superfluous. The reactions of Cleary and David Portmore, as fellow waiter Dimitri, would have been just as entertaining had they been reactions to an unseen character offstage. While one can hardly fault Illsley’s work as director, his huffing and puffing onstage is distracting.

I felt slightly uncomfortable being a reviewer of a play in which the critic is the equivalent of Gaston, Maleficent or the Wicked Witch of the West. Lamb, Illsley, Christy and the cast seemed to have girded their loins for a roasting. They should relax. Pass the Salt is a delightfully colourful and chaotic farce that made for an enjoyable way to spend my evening.

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