A double dish of delights from St Albans theatre group

Black Comedy

Black Comedy - Credit: Archant

On the face of it there is nothing to link the double bill of plays currently being performed by the Company of Ten in the Abbey Theatre.

CoT Browning Version

CoT Browning Version - Credit: Archant

But after watching Rattigan’s The Browning Version and Shaffer’s Black Comedy one common denominator became very clear - they are both exceptionally good.

The two one-act plays could not be more unlike - the first mildly humorous and thought-provoking and the second farcical and extremely funny.

But both are absolutely gripping and what was quite a long night at the St Albans theatre flew by in an instant.

What made the evening even more remarkable was that several of the actors performed in both plays and in one case, that of Mark Waghorn, had leading roles in each.

No wonder he looked exhausted at the end of the evening.

The Browning Version, Rattigan’s mesmerising play about schoolmaster Andrew Crocker-Harris and the events that unfold in one afternoon as he is about to leave the school because of ill health, is an emotional maelstrom.

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It encapsulates every sentiment from humour to despair, from love to betrayal and more besides. Director Kathryn Rogers squeezes every ounce of drama out of both the play and her cast.

Paul Manuel as Crocker-Harris is perfectly cast as the unloved boarding school teacher who has brought so much on himself. He is matched by a fine performance from Jane Fookes as his wife and lover of fellow science master Frank - the first appearance of the evening by Mark Waghorn.

Rory Byrne makes a welcome appearance as the slimy headteacher Dr Frobisher and like the entire audience I am guessing, I loved the performance by Will Foxton as Taplow, the pupil we meet right at the outset of the play.

Black Comedy is more than just dark - it actually takes place in a power cut or a ‘fuse’ as the cast calls it. It starts with the stage in darkness then, for the benefit of the audience, the lights go on on stage as the actors perform as though they are plunged into darkness. Cue much groping around in the dark which results in some of the funniest scenes ever seen at the Abbey Theatre.

When artist Brindsley Miller, played brilliantly by Mark Waghorn, falls down the stairs it was so accomplished that the audience burst into applause on Saturday night. Black Comedy seemed to bring out the best in the entire cast from Katherine Barry as the prim Miss Furnival, Graham Sawtell as the self-obsessed Harold Gorringe and Emma Watson and Jenny Kilcast as Carol and Clea respectively, the two women in Brindsley’s life.

Rory Byrne is back as the hilarious Colonel Melkett, Carol’s military father, and Paul Manuel also reappears as the hapless man from the electricity office, Schuppanzigh.

Director Andy Mills comes on at the last to play the billionaire art dealer Georg Bamberger - a small but vital cog in the play.

The double bill gets the Company of Ten’s new season underway and they have set the bar high with these two plays.

The production continues from tonight (22) until Saturday (24) and tickets are available from the box office on 01727 857861 or click here.