Just Don’t Expect Any Sex

British humor is spot on at Vienna’s English Theatre

Jolana Lee,Jeffery Harmer, Matthew Hendrickson and James Cawood in Out of Order

From left to right: Jolana Lee, Jeffrey Harmer, Matthew Hendrickson and James Cawood in Out of Order, playing at Vienna’s English Theatre throughout June | Photo: Reinhard Reidinger

Out of Order is a quintessentially British farce: it isn’t about sex. While the curtain may open on a Junior Cabinet Minister trying to bed the luscious Jane, the discovery of a dead body behind a curtain soon changes the drama into a hysterical romp replete with the British comic hang-ups of class, public schools, mummy-boys and saucy-word-play.

For, David Warwick’s production of Ray Cooney’s play combines the hysterical acrobatics of Fawlty Towers mixed with the oddball scheming and establishment immaturity of Yes Minister. Surely Fawlty himself could not have been more ineffectual than poor old Mr Willy, the protagonist of this romp, updated by Warwick from Thatcherite to Brownite, desperately trying to get laid in the face of intrusions from a corpse, his mistress’s husband, an avaricious waiter – actor Stan Pretty’s below stairs Figaro doing nicely from his masters’ desperate largess – and, finally, his very own wife.

The Yes Minister element comes from actor James Cawood, as the excellent George Pigden, under secretary to Willy.

His first lines, responding to Willy’s crisis message about hotel arrangements for a luxury set of rooms in a Westminster Hotel, are reminiscent of the ever-literal Bernhard in the TV series: “when you say suite, do you mean pudding?”

Similarly, George, like his stereo-typed Whitehall counterparts, is unable to do sex, and when he first meets lovely Jane Worthington (Jolana Lee), can’t help where he looks, uncontrollably blurting out “Good evening Miss Worthingtons,” before getting back on the blower to enquire after his mother.

Moreover, the cynicism of that 1980s political satire, updated by Warwick to the 21st Century, is clearly visible. Willy, in his flustered incompetence, could easily be one of Brown’s inner-circle, although, admittedly, it is doubtful whether Jane, with her aura of glamour, would in reality be one of David Cameron’s most trusted typists. The dialogue makes the point explicit however.

“If [he carries] on like this [he] could end up leader of the party,” Willy observes amidst the deepening sleaze. George however relaxes in the knowledge that his night of unaccustomed excitement has “all been paid for by the taxpayer” – an uncomfortably apposite reference to the contemporary House of Commons.

Similarly, British comedy’s twin loves, those of the coercion of the weak and also, paradoxically, love of the underdog, are well drawn out by Warwick’s production. In the first Act, Willy strong-arms a hapless George, as a prefect might a powerless ‘fag’ at Public School, (or as a Fawlty might a Manuel). Yet, after the interval we begin to see a different under-secretary. Suddenly, he is the one getting his master out of tight situations, saying all the right lines and, astoundingly, he is the one getting all the women: two girls go wild for his ‘you’re luurvely’ thigh rubbing routine, although of course as a true English gent he stops short of getting it on, settling instead for the homely Nurse Gladys.

With this Out of Order, in fact, we get the very best of British. It’s a rip-roaring farce, packed with slap-stick, stereotypes and cynicism and, at times, it will have you guffawing with laughter. Just don’t expect any sex.

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