Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Sharon Clayton as Nurse Tate, Jake Collyer as Leslie, Phil Astle as Dr Hubert Bonney and Richard Constable as Dr David Mortimore. Pictures: Emily White

It Runs in the Family

Highbury Theatre Centre


It Runs in the Family is a classic British farce written by Ray Cooney in 1987 in the mid Elizabethan era. Highbury Theatre itself is well appointed and intimate making it an ideal setting for comedy.

The action is set in the Doctor’s common room at St Andrew’s hospital London. We arrive as chief protagonist physician Dr. David Mortimore prepares to deliver the prestigious Ponsonby lecture to a room full of visiting neurologists.

A promotion and knighthood is an impending reward for a successful presentation. However, things are not going smoothly. A past lover appears with shocking news of a love child. It is news he wants hidden from both his wife, and everyone else, including the hospital.

All the Cooney ingredients are here, mistaken identity, double entendres, surprise revelations, sexual innuendo, physical and visual gags, windows, and lots of doors. Chaos ensues which probably makes this an accurate reflection of the 21st century NHS where poverty is claimed to the visiting junior health minister, but not so much poverty as to affect the excellent job the doctors are doing . .

Aficionados of the genre will not be disappointed by this excellent choice of production which is the first play of the 2022/23 season and is often regarded as Cooney’s best.

Phil Astle directs, and takes the principal part of Dr Hubert Bonney, Dr Mortimore’s friend and confidante, two responsibilities , an onerous and demanding undertaking, which he acquits well. He is ideal as Bonney in an unusually well chosen cast.

Suave, accommodating and urbane, he also has the satisfaction of the final plot twist. Richard Constable plays opposite him as a smug, angular, neurotic, Mortimore, who unwinds in front of us as events spiral out of control in a memorable comic performance reminiscent of John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty.


David Weller as the police sergeant with Rob Phillips as the cantankerous Bill haranguing Phil Astle's Dr Bonney

But it is Jake Collyer, playing Mortimore’s now grown up son Leslie, who steals the show. Physically imposing, emotionally needy, Collyer is outstanding as he desperately tries to comprehend the incomprehensible around him.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Sharon Clayton is demure and sassy as Nurse Tate whose liaison with Dr Mortimore eighteen years ago in the sluice room precipitated this sequence of events. Mandy Yeomans convinces, and is assured, as Mortimore’s long suffering wife Rosemary, a wife who it turns out knew a lot more than her husband was aware of.

Bhupinder Brown ekes the maximum out of her part as Dr Connelly, linking the action neatly, but enjoying both the comic opportunities as organiser of the hospital pantomime director and her familial association with the investigating Police Sergeant (David Weller) whose Final Act closing summary of the nonsense that has gone before is a comic gem. Pip Oliver has great fun as the blonde battle axe matron who inadvertently receives a dose of sedative. She is always keen to keep standards high, even when her bloomers are low, and stars in the memorable defenestration scene which is the comic highlight of the evening.

The disintegration of the delivery of the Ponsonby lecture is faithfully recounted by the ever increasing exasperation of Martin Walker’s pompous, bombastic, blustering Sir Willoughby Drake. Proceedings are mainly watched by the dementia suffering, wheelchair bound, Bill, laconically and humorously observed by Rob Phillips, albeit in a part that probably would not be written in this way today. Becky Higgs has the distinction as a Nurse Sister of being the only sane protagonist, Yvonne Lee relishes her walk on cameo at the end as Mother, as does the audience.

The single set design (Malcolm Robertshaw) of the Doctor’s common room is simple, well lit (Steve Bowyer) functional and, crucially, has doors and a window which open and close at the right time. Andrew Birkbeck’s sound ensures that the telephones ring at the right time. The costuming is generically credited to Highbury Wardrobe who have done a fine job. It is easy in amateur productions to be lazy with contemporary wardrobe, but not here. The Doctors look the part, Sir Willoughby looks every bit a knight of the realm, Nurse Tate’s dress is prim but beautiful, Rosemary Mortimore’s shoes stylish and eye catching. The detail does matter.

Producer Sandra Haynes has worked hard to ensure this show is fast-paced, high-energy , and most importantly, very funny. The audience lapped it up. If you like farce, you will love this, and if you don’t, come along anyway as you will be won over by this production which runs until the 24th September.

Gary Longden


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate