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Production

Rumours

Company

The Stage Club

Reviewer

Neo Rubin

Date

08/10/2004

Time

8.00pm

Place

Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel

Rating

***1/2

Say, Did You Hear about...?

When Ken Bevans, asks his wife Chris what she remembers saying to the guests who have just arrived for Charley Brook's anniversary party, she replies, "I was speaking so fast, I couldn't listen." While she may not have caught what she had said herself, she and the rest of the cast left the audience pricking up their ears for more witticisms delivered at rapid speed.

Set in a finance minister's living room and featuring four upper-crust couples faced with a scandal involving (gasp!) a bullet shot through an earlobe and a missing wife, Neil Simon's play pokes fun at a whole range of themes and issues from New Age healing methods to the inexplicable fear of the police.

Simon's characters are delightfully self-centred. With the four couples' being only concerned about issues which affect them, it is surprising that Charley Brook, the poor earlobe-injured finance minister is still alive at the end of the play. It's particularly surprising considering that all the attempts to call a doctor to help him are foiled by the couples' general unwillingness to be embroiled in a scandal that, if made public, might threaten their jobs. The general unwillingness to go straight on to the truth and the preference for cover-ups and deceit only serves to reflect mankind's propensity to hide things from one another, in a bid to save one's face, or arse - for all that matters. In short, Rumours, despite its Bronx-born American playwright, is a satire with universal relevance.

Act one opened with Ken Bevans (Steve Clark) and his ditzy blonde wife, Chris (Nicola Perry), whom we later discover has a weakness for a drink. Put them together and a simple act of ending a phone call that may potentially publicise the scandal, results in Chris' revealing more than she intended, to the amusement of the audience. Nicola Perry did a great job in blending both physical and verbal humour and in addition, executed the most convincing and intentional trip-and-fall I had ever seen. I could hardly believe she has a day job. Similarly, Steve Clark had the audience in stitches with his loss of hearing at the end of the first act (due to an unfortunate incident where, he says, a bottle of shaving cream exploded). And his slightly recovered but still selective hearing at the beginning of the second act provoked even more laughs as he spelled out to the couples exactly what had happened, not knowing that just a few moments ago, when he was still deaf, they had already been told everything.

The rest of the cast demonstrated almost impeccable comic timing with the bulk of the laughs going to the roles of Chris Bevans and Leonard Cummings (Steve Armstrong). Armstrong's restrained portrayal of Leonard coupled with his rigid body language brings back memories of actor John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. And celebrity cook, Cookie Cusack's (Angela Barolsky) makeup and Russian frock made her the epitome of all that Martha Stewart is not. And even though her spinal injury and likeness to a manicured poodle seemed to be calculated to draw cheap laughs from a very kind audience, Barolsky managed to bring out an additional human dimension that accentuated her performance and changed ridicule into pity. Barry Woolhead, who appeared in the Stage Club's original version of Rumours seven years ago, reprised his role as Officer Conklin. He and Officer Casey (Sally Anderson) were so convincing as policemen that the audience visibly strained their ears in order to hear the commands given by the headquarters through their walkie-talkie, only to realise in dismay that the barely audible commands were in fact gibberish. Not unexpectedly, this discovery drew laughs too.

But like most productions, there were a couple of boo boos too. Firstly, even though the delivery from the actors was clear for most of the time, I found it quite hard to catch parts of Claire Cummings' (Kim Maxwell) dialogue (especially in the beginning when she first appears). And I was not the only person who suffered slightly from this; the obvious lack of laughs from the back of the theatre and the concentration of laughs from the first few rows indicated that Maxwell's delivery was too rapid to carry. Secondly, Frankie Ng, who played the role of Glenn Cooper, appeared strangely disconnected from his character at times, but thankfully he managed to redeem himself in the second half of the play. One could perhaps speculate that the fear of getting into trouble and being identified by the police is deeply rooted in all true-blue Singaporeans' hearts, which would neatly explain why his performance in the second half, when the police finally appear, was so enjoyable.

Nick Perry's direction was well paced and this proved to be a relief, because the play lasted for more than two hours and would have bored the audience stiff with poor direction. The use of Mack the Knife as the opening song set the mood for the action yet to come - but it was quite curious that Blue Moon was chosen to open the second act. Blue Moon would have been perfect if the second act was entirely about love and reconciliation, but that wasn't the case. Setwise, the placing of the cellar door at the very centre of the stage, obvious to every one, but yet ignored throughout the play by the actors provided a very satisfying twist at the end.

As farce, Rumours satisfied all expectations of the genre. Not only was the audience treated with humour of despair and a sense of the ridiculous (bullet through an earlobe?), but there were also frantic bouts of covering up loopholes and torrential storms in teacups, courtesy of Barolsky and the painfully neurotic Cassie Cooper (Emilie Oehlers) who demands unfailing fidelity from her husband.

As mentioned earlier, Neil Simon's Rumours is delightfully written. The constant rapid-fire dialogue, word play and the occasional breakdown of communication demand clear articulation and a precise sense of comic timing on the part of the actors, whom I am pleased to report, largely did justice to the script. Additionally, The Stage Club, which has been known to feature a clash of accents in some of its other productions, emerges relatively unscathed in Rumours. This is not surprising, for director Nick Perry did mention that staging the British edition of Rumours "relieves the majority of the cast from having to try desperately to anchor their accents somewhere in America." In the non-British minority, Ng's accent was believable and not jarring when placed beside those of the British actors, and Oehlers did a perfect job.

So apart from some minor quibbles with regards to acting and the lingering question: why Blue Moon? what better way is there to end a busy week than to end it with a healthy dose of laughter?


"The cast demonstrated almost impeccable comic timing"

More Productions by The Stage Club

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.