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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Two Into One
Menier Chocolate Factory      Spring 2014

Here is an opportunity to laugh a whole lot while also admiring a master technician at work and the smooth running of his perfectly-designed machine. 

In his many stage farces, West End staples from the 1960s through the 1980s, Ray Cooney perfected a formula an initial small lie, usually to cover a bit of naughtiness, proves so fragile that it has to be shored up with ever more complex lies until the liar himself can't keep track of which story he's told to who. 

Cooney's signature twist was to have the would-be lecher involve a friend or aide in the plot, so that the poor shnook, with nothing to gain himself, carries most of the burden of invention and constant patchwork. (This role was frequently played by Cooney himself.) 

So in Two Into One a man (He's an MP, but that's barely relevant) staying in a hotel with his wife wants to book a second room for an afternoon quickie with his girlfriend. 

He has his aide do it, but the guy gets the cover name wrong, somehow gives the boss's wife the idea that he, the shnook, wants a liaison with her (an idea she doesn't find too abhorrent), and winds up travelling under three different names, with some people thinking he's a doctor and others that he's gay. 

Once the action gets going, the wife has to be kept from seeing the mistress, the husband has to be kept from seeing his wife, and everyone has to hide (or explain) the fact that they're in various states of undress. I've left out several of the complications, but you get the idea. 

Julie Godfrey's set, the two hotel rooms side by side, contains at least a half-dozen doors, and there is rarely a moment when someone isn't being pushed frantically out one just as someone else comes in another. 

Indeed, the perfectly-synchronised choreography of doors is one of the purely aesthetic pleasures of this production, with Ray Cooney doubling as director (and tripling as a scene-stealing room service waiter) and giving a master class in comic timing that anyone with dreams of ever directing a farce should be required to study.

It isn't quite uninterrupted laughter from start to finish. While the visual comedy is perfection, some of the verbal gags fall flat, and you'll sense the writer running out of material in the second half, and the actors working harder to stretch the basic joke. 

In fact the talented but not instinctively comic cast work hard at finding the funniness throughout, and a perfect farce would hide the effort completely. Apart from Ray Cooney himself, Josefina Gabrielle as the unexpectedly amorous wife is most successful at making it all seem easy, with Michael Praed as the husband and Nick Wilton as the shnook finding all the laughs but visibly having to work for them.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Two Into One - Menier Chocolate Factory 2014

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