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

Kerry Jones as Angela and Ian Cornock as Giles, our would be lovers.

 Pictures: Christopher Commander

Flat Out

Sutton Arts Theatre


What a welcome breath of fresh air, a new comedy which is actually laugh out loud funny with everything from Brexit to LGBT in the firing line, with a dig at bankers and estate agents to boot.

This is a farce for the 21st century and as with any farce there is the lure of coitus which is interuptused so many times it is more of a sexual hokey cokey, and there are doors, four of them, for the obligatory comings and goings with a large window to access the . . . scaffolding. Scaffolding?

Ah, yes, scaffolding. This tale of cross-dressing bankers, amorous KCs (or QCs depending upon which page of the script you are on), dead wives on a sort of financial life support scheme, assorted nookie contestants and a cleaner who knows everyone’s business, takes place in a run down, tired old block of flats in South Kensington.

The owners, lured by the the promise of a financial killing, are refurbishing the said block with the aim of attracting a new breed of clientele, the likes of filthy rich foreigners such as Russians who have only been sanctioned a bit. The current tenants with their historically low rents are to be offered compensation to move out or rehousing in a similar, run-down flat elsewhere.

That is if the owners can’t find any breach of the lease conditions, however minor, which would mean the tenant could be evicted on the spot with no cash or alternative accommodation and the agents would be quids in.

So, amid the bedhopping and cross dressing we have the spying to catch any tenant out, all in the shape of the scaffolding stalking and rather officious nerd Tim Forrester, played earnestly in hard hat and hi-viz by Lliam O’Connor, who can see a promotion looming if he can save his employers some cash.

sandrine and hugh

Prospective sub-tenant Sandrine, played by Karrise Willetts and Jonathan Owen as banker Hugh

Then there is Hugh and Claire Carmichael, who live in Flat 5 where it all takes place. Joanne James is a lovely Claire, funny, inventive and good for a laugh while Jonathan Owen is a magical Hugh who has no more than a passing relationship with the world about him.

Hugh is, or perhaps more accurately, was, a senior banker whose knowledge of things fiduciary in an ever changing world of financial fiddles, sorry, instruments, did not extend much beyond guineas, pounds, shillings and pence. Derivatives, shorting - it was all Greek to him and his real nemesis was LBOs (leveraged buyouts - borrowing money to buy a going concern, a bit like buying, say, Tesco, on HP).

In his mind LBO might possibly have rung a bell as perhaps that Birmingham rock band of the 1970s but when you have no idea what an LBO is when appearing before a parliamentary select committee . . . the quill is heading rapidly for the wall.

He appears to be on the fringes of normality, perhaps just about on the line, and also has a penchant for pencil skirts and crop tops - perhaps he was once a lumberjack and was OK, who knows, still, we discover shocking pink does seem to suit him . . . don’t’ ask.

Then there is Kerry Jones as Angela Crabbe, a dental hygienist, which isn’t really important, but at least you know. She is sort of married in the loosest sense, her husband Simon, not being around these days, and is trying to, should we say, fulfil her lascivious desires, with QC/KC Giles.

To avoid the husband at home thing she is borrowing Claire’s flat for an assignation which is a posh word for carnality, which is a posh word for . . . you get the horizontal nature of the idea.

It could have been an afternoon of lying back and thinking of England followed by a post coitus B&H except first we have the arrival of Marina the Cleaner, played splendidly by Sara Anifowose. Marina is a day late because of the tube strike and as dusting and Hoovering is not really a huge sexual turn on – although there are probably sites on the internet to dispute that - Angela persuades her to leave.

Giles getting put in his place from the acerbic tongue of Sara Anifowose's Marina the Cleaner.

Marina, with her accent, has one of the funniest lines I have heard in ages, depending entirely on delivery as she tells Angela that everyone is looking for happiness. Sara gets her own star for brilliant delivery, and littering proceedings with cutting remarks, put downs and asides in an accomplished performance.

Ian Cornock gives us a mix of reluctant yet eager Giles which is hardly surprising as he arrives to find Angela awaiting him in bra and pants, but sadly, for him, pants is pretty much all he manages as the bedroom becomes an escape room from the endless parade of visitors from Tim to Hugh to Sandrine . . . who she? All will be revealed, which is more than Giles can say about Angela . . . just saying.

Giles tries to usher people out, time and temptation waiting for no man, to return to the bed of passion but all too often instead of transporting Angela to an erotic(ish) paradise, he transports her instead merely through the window to the rain lashed scaffolding to hide from yet more visitors.

Now back to Sandrine, remember, last paragraph but one? Sandrine, played by Karrise Willetts, is a law student who Hugh is showing round the flat as a potential tenant. The Carmichaels, who now live in a posh pile in the ountry, sub-let the flat, which is strictly against the terms of the lease, so the arrangement is rent below market rate and very hush hush, no paperwork, just handshakes.

Meanwhile, just back from Florida we have Phil who is something in fountain pens or a middle-class mobster (possibly), who has a lease problem of his own which could scupper his compensation. Phil might be of interest to the FBI and is certainly of interest to the brewing and distilling industry which he seems to support with some gusto.

Luckily old mate Hugh is ready, willing and able to help out even dressing for the occasion.

So, there we have it, sort of. Except Marina thinks Angela had arrived for girl on girl action with Claire, Giles thinks Phil is Angela’s husband Simon, Tim thinks Angela is Claire and Claire is an East European cleaner, Sandrine thinks Tim is having it off with Angela and to top it all Tim thinks Hugh is his twin sister, Trudy who is married to Phil. Hugh was in a frock in Tim’s defence, although not much of a defence admittedly.

To top it all Marina’s immigration status might just be questionable. Oh, and perhaps I ought to mention the building work has unleashed a mouse infestation, the point of which is revealed later, and the electrics are not the best.

We end with everyone pleading with Tim not to drop them all in it – pleas falling time after time on deaf ears with the self-satisfied, self-important smug git already counting his bonus as the curtain falls . . . not quite the end though, Tim old son. What the eye doesn’t see, the mind, and cast in this case, can always fill in. The answer to that riddle is included in the price of a ticket.

As always it is an excellent set, designed by director Louise Farmer and Colin Edge, while David Ashton has done a good job on sound and lighting which, with the dodgy electrics - in the plot not the theatre I hasten to add - needed more than just on at the start off at the end. He seemed to be aided by Amazon’s Alexa, incidentally, all part of the phones, doorbells and rain sound plot.

Farmer has instilled a cracking pace with all the comings and goings, in and out of doors and windows and the universally excellent cast have milked every drop of humour from Jennifer Selway’s clever script.

Selway said: "I wanted to write something that had no other function apart from making people laugh.”. She has succeeded admirably. To 04-02-23

Roger Clarke


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