Playing With ‘Funny Money’

At Vienna’s English Theatre, a lively farce, full of pleasurable twists and characters teetering on the edge of total disaster

Keith Myers, Gregory Cox, Jeffrey Harmer in Ray Cooney’s Funny Money | Photo: Reinhard. Reidinger

Manslaughter, robbery, drugs, escape attempts, extortion, sex and madness – all of Ray Cooney’s world is packed into the comedy Funny Money, playing at Vienna’s English Theatre through Jul. 2.

Funny Money is a typical farce, replete with pleasurable twists, turns, and characters on the edge of total disaster. When Henry Perkins returns home to his Childwall semi having accidentally picked up the wrong briefcase – one which happens to contain £735,000 – he sparks a chain of events that involves physical comedy, sexual innuendo, and layer upon layer of mistaken identities. Add to that first-rate performances, and you have a recipe for two hours of non-stop hilarity.

Director David Warwick has referred to himself as a privileged member of the extended Cooney family, who have been fascinated by farce and comedy since his first role in a Cooney play in 1967.  The direction of this play, which was fast and clear, brought out the best in the actors. From the first appearance of Jeffrey Harmer as Henry, gasping in the doorway at the extraordinary thing that has happened to him, to the final dance number, the action flowed effectively without pausing for breath.

Hallmark farcical routines were drilled to perfection. Juggling with identical briefcases to switch them one for another, raising a blanket neck-high at critical moments to hide covert transactions, and the high comedy sequences of invention and fantastical explanations were all perfectly timed.

Hilary Derrett, as Jean, moved convincingly – and increasingly unsteadily – from drink to drink throughout the play as the pressures rose, before suddenly sobering up at the end. The self-assured policeman Davenport, played by Gregory Cox, was portrayed as just enough off-centre to make it no surprise that he could be bought. The director himself played the second policeman, Slater, with a quiet and clearly incorruptible authority. The married friends were Vic Johnson, somewhat slow and bewildered, played by Keith Meyers, and Betty Johnson, an attractive, feisty character played by Annie Walker. Bill, the baffled taxi driver, played by David Streames, was very steady with a considerable presence. The role of the passer-by rounded off the whole piece in a strong performance by Nick Sadler.

Jeffrey Harmer remained on stage for nearly the entire play. He made a wonderful appearance, and his ability to keep a spontaneous sense of worry and invention going, and to regulate the pace for two hours, speaks volumes for his ability as an actor.

The stage design by West-End celebrity Terry Parsons was a fine reproduction of a British living room, with the typical flowery wallpaper, glass-in-lead and coo-coo-clock. The doors were solid and clicked open and shut with all the firmness farce requires, and the décor was just right.

All told, this is an exciting and well-paced production. Well-satisfied myself, as I exited the theater, I overheard one audience member remarking to their companion, ‘That’s the best laugh I’ve had for a long time!’

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