A few lines of dialogue in the 1944 British farce See How They Run that might come in handy for an audience member include "the less I say the better" and "whatever you see, pretend you didn't see."
Those instructions make this kind of farce -- rife with mistaken identity and madcap physicality in the ducking in and out doors and jumping behind pieces of furniture, etc. -- so funny.
Well that, coupled with putting all of the elements in terms of direction and casting in place. Circle Theatre can check all of those things off the list, and consider its revival of Philip King's comedy a success.
Robin Armstrong, who has directed farces at Circle to great success in recent years (Incorruptible, Boeing-Boeing), hits another home run here. Or, whatever the equivalent is in cricket, considering that a cricket bat comes in handy for the wacky, Whac-A-Mole-like shenanigans in See How They Run.
Penelope Toop (Sherry Hopkins), the wife of the Rev. Lionel Toop (Christopher Curtis), gets a visit from American soldier and former fellow thespian Clive (Mark Shum), who changes into parson's clothing at her house to get out of his Army gear.
Other folks who pop in during the two-act play include the Bishop of Lax (David H.M. Lambert) and the Rev. Arthur Humphrey (R. Bradford Smith); and a Russian intruder (Eric Dobbins) on the run and in need of a change of clothes, too. He finds it, wouldn't you know, in a clerical collar.
So, we've got five men, only three of them real men of the cloth, and four vicar uniforms. That means you can guarantee almost always one man in boxers and an undershirt.
Add in two other essential British farce characters -- the nosy, flirty maid Ida (Hannah McKinney) and the pious character who accidentally partakes of liquor, Miss Skillon (Becca Shivers) -- and everyone's high on high jinks.
It's not the most coherent of physical farces, but it would pave the way for better ones, such as Noises Off.
Armstrong's actors are oblivious when their characters need to be, look the wrong way at just the right time (so that some other character can slip by and hide or escape), and hit the comic dialogue with surgical precision. With all of that running so smoothly, it's no wonder the audience is laughing hysterically.
The men have the bulk of the chasing and jumping physicality, as well as the sight gags, but the women hold it together like so much Krazy Glue. Shivers has the toughest physical task among them, constantly passing out and being drunk. One well-executed flip over the back of a sofa into a perfect sitting position on opening weekend was so spot-on funny that Shivers broke character a bit and tried to restrain her own laughter, which of course made everyone howl even more. (That kind of blooper only works in these types of shows.)
Hopkins, looking gorgeous in Armstrong's nicely tailored costumes (was that a wig or her real hair? Hard to tell; a good sign), does her best work yet, those big eyes and pursed lips revealing just enough, and never too much.
Maybe the only thing that would have made it funnier would be to add in a Three Stooges-like sound design, so that the head bonks and accidental punches came with cartoon sound effects.