If you want sex, swearing or Simon Stephens plays you’re better off looking around your local bingo hall than the new Park Theatre: since opening a few months ago its main house has played host to a determinedly chintzy series of crowd-pleasers.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when we’re talking about something as entertaining as this jolly revival of Ben Travers’s hugely successful 1927 farce.
Though given a tweak here and there by Clive Francis, the principle joy of Eleanor Rhodes’s revival is how unreconstructed it all is – ‘Thark’ is as preposterous a comedy as you’ll ever see. In it, lecherous old duffer Sir Hector Benbow (a splendid turn from Francis himself) accidentally arranges to have an intimate supper with three different women. So far, so farce, but this all unexpectedly gives way to something bizarrely reminiscent of an episode of ‘Scooby Doo’, as the entire gang decamps to the titular haunted house. It makes very little sense plot-wise, but as farce it ticks along like clockwork, and certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Given a big budget West End production and the weight of expectations, ‘Thark’ would flounder. One doesn’t so much admire – or even laugh – at the play itself, so much as enjoy it as a nicely crafted period curio, like a joke that we’re all in on with the cast, who attack it with well-drilled chutzpah.
But this sort of unselfconsciously daft endeavour is a big part of our theatre heritage, and this small scale revival makes for a pleasurable rehabilitation of sorts.
By Andrzej Lukowski