Ray Cooney’s 1990 comedy is standard issue farce: it’s basically ladies in negligees being shoved into cupboards. Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with this, it’s just that Out of Order doesn’t have the charm of a Boeing Boeing, the wit of a Relatively Speaking or the genius plotting of a Noises Off. If anything its roll call of awful double entendres (‘I’ve had such a bang!’, ‘Something’s just popped up! etc) recalls one of the later Carry Ons. Instead of being a finely constructed Swiss watch of complications and misunderstandings, it takes more of a scattergun approach so that by the end I wasn’t sure exactly why someone was being lied to, or why the next woman was being ushered into the bedroom, adjoining suite or hotel balcony.
The basic set-up: Tory Minister Richard Willey (yes, smut fans, he’s Dick Willey!) is in a London hotel intent on consummating an affair with Labour party secretary Jane Worthington (Susie Amy). The initial complication is that there’s a corpse in the room. Alerting the police could lead to scandal so the body has to be disposed of. Willey calls on one of his underlings George Pigden (Shaun Williamson) to help him clear up the mess. The ensuing shenanigans include the secretary’s husband, Pigden’s mother’s nurse, the hotel manager and a venal waiter.
I think it’s fair to say that all the problems are down to the script rather than the acting. Andrew Hall brings the requisite amount of frenzied energy to the part of the conniving minister. Williamson is rather good as the functionary who finds himself becoming increasingly resigned to his bosses harebrained schemes. The most successfully realised character is that of the waiter (James Holmes), who wanders through the proceedings with an air of slightly detached campery.
The tannoy announcement before curtain-up forbidding the use of mobile phones did, however, give us permission to ‘laugh until you cry’. It was a very kind offer, but one I wasn’t able to take up. However, if you find it credible that a man would confess marital problems to a complete stranger by kneeling down in front of him and grabbing him round the waist – and furthermore if you find it funny that a third person coming into the room might think he was stumbling upon an act of fellatio – you should probably take a handkerchief.
Continues at the Theatre Royal, Brighton until Saturday, March 25.