August 9, 2007 6:54 pm

In the Club

What better time than the silly season to get into a farcical situation? Hard on the heels of the Donmar’s Absurdia – a trio of short comedies: two old absurdist pieces by N.F. Simpson and a new Michael Frayn work – the Hampstead Theatre offers a political farce by Richard Bean. More timely still, it avoids the home front at Westminster – what with summer recess, Tony Blair gone and Gordon Brown yet to slip on a banana-skin – instead making the main character an ambitious member of the European Parliament.

Philip Wardrobe (a sleazily debonair James Fleet with young Alan Clark looks) wants to be president of the parliament and he sees his way to the top, not to mention trousering millions of euros in illicit consultancy fees, through support for Turkey’s membership of the European Union. If only it were that simple. While trying to mix dubious business with philandering pleasure in his luxury Strasbourg hotel suite, he is soon embroiled in every farcical set piece known to playwrights: amorous women overheat in disparate bedrooms, colleagues connive in corridors, spies hide in cupboards, vamps escape in laundry baskets, doors open on in flagrante scenarios and, yes, trousers come down. Between times in and out traipses a panoply of stereotypes: a bumptious Yorkshireman (a hilariously uncouth Richard Moore), a hubris-ridden Turk, a French femme fatale – plus other genre stalwarts such as a gendarme, a doctor, a plumber and an archbishop.

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Yet In the Club is far from run-of- the-mill. It may be crammed with running gags, slapstick and witty one-liners, but the fun is constantly juxtaposed with a moody topicality. Each of the politicos gets to deliver edgy assessments of genuine predicaments – like the Islamification of Europe. Frau Flugelhammerlein, a heavyweight socialist whip, wades in with “When that madman killed Theo van Gogh, that was Europe’s 9/11”, before lightening the tone with a comic aside: “If Methodists were going around blowing themselves up we’d think twice about letting the Welsh in wouldn’t we?”

The director David Grindley struggles a little to sustain the madcap pace but his cast grasp their parts, as it were, with relish. Astringently irreverent and pleasingly pointed by turns, this show will make everyone laugh – except, perhaps, Peter Mandelson.

Tel +44 020 7722 9301

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