The Marlowe, Canterbury
The sound of skiffle band The Craze floats out into the foyer from the stage as the audience arrives, causing people to rush to the auditorium even if they’ve arrived in good time.
But the musicians are there to set the tone for the evening, rewarding early arrivals with a cheerful, breezy collection of 60s songs while they find their seats.
Set in 1963 Brighton amid hints of a criminal underworld, the show is adapted from Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 play The Servant of Two Masters.
This is a big bold production that ticks all the boxes of classic farce, with mistaken identities, plot twists and plenty of doors, albeit ones that make the scenery wobble very slightly when slammed.
Gloriously good-humoured, over-the-top performances are the order of the day and not one member of the cast fails to deliver exactly that.
Former EastEnders star Shaun Williamson receives a warm welcome from the audience but as the most recognisable name in the cast feels rather underused in the role of small-time gangster Charlie Clench.
The engagement of his daughter Pauline (Jasmyn Banks) to aspiring, and entertainingly ridiculous, actor Alan (Edward Hancock) is put into peril by a prior arrangement with London heavy Roscoe Crabbe, whose unexpected arrival throws a spanner in the works.
He is helped by employee Francis Henshall, another arrangement sent spinning into mayhem as Francis also takes up a job offer from Staney Stubbers (Patrick Warner), an upper-class fool with many of the best lines.
The central role of Francis is a big one, and it requires a big performance.
And that’s exactly what Gavin Spokes gives.
He tumbles, sprints, falls and flails but, fortunately, receives a little help with the cartwheels.
The hugely-physical role is as stuffed to bursting with slapstick as the seams on his ill-fitting suit and he completely delivers.
He regularly breaks the fourth wall, leaving the first few rows shifting nervously in their seats as those around them are included in the action.
Every line is delivered with glee and anyone who doesn’t like one punchline has to wait just a few seconds for another, such is the pace of proceedings.
The dual dinner scene just before the interval is a particular delight, as Francis is joined by wobbly octogenarian waiter Alfie (Michael Dylan).
The doddering server falls victim to just about every trick in the slapstick book and it’s, quite simply, hilarious.
Scenes are punctuated with performances from the band, joined by cast members showing off their musical chops with steel drums, a glockenspiel or vocals, an effective way of getting the props shifted unobtrusively.
The scenery may have wobbled a little every now and again but the performances definitely don’t and as the cast assemble for a final song and dance, the audience is sent away on a high.
I’d quite happily have made it One Woman, Two Attendances.