Review by Lucas Miller.
Written by Will Evans and Valentine, adapted by Alan Ayckbourn | Directed by Joe Harmston | Designed by Simon Scullion | 2 – 7 February at The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh.
Louise – Caroline Langrishe
Mark Curry – Aubrey
Sprules – Christopher Timothy
Simpson – Finty Williams
“Henery” – Eric Carte
Giles – Keith Clifford
Miss Mullet – Janet Henfrey
Jean – Lysette Anthony
It’s the route of all evil,
Of strife and upheaval,
But I’m certain, Honey,
That life could be sunny,
With plenty of money and you!
Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre has kicked off their season with Alan Ayckbourn’s adaptation of Will Evans’ and Valentine’s farce, Tons of Money. It is frivolous, witty and fantastical—hilarious—a welcome contrast to the dour weather and folk of February.
The play, first performed 1922, is in its design reflective of the hedonism we associate with the Jazz Age, a decade, Fitzgerald writes, when all people wanted was to be entertained. It has the wit and general ring of a Noel Coward play, but without the sophisticated melodrama. It is entirely a farce, catering in its time exactly to what war-weary theatre-goers wanted. This much is confirmed by the 733 performances it ran. W. Buchanan Taylor, an important publicist of the time, the programme informs us, said to Nora Heald of The Daily Mail: “Do you realise that this is the first successful farce since the end of the war and it’s British from stem to stern?” He was not, at least, exaggerating about the Britishness.
Alan Ayckbourn, still fondly remembered for his hits of the later 1970’s (The Norman Conquests, Absurd Person Singular), adapted Tons of Money in 1985 as part of a project designed to revive not only this play, but also It Pays to Advertise, along with another nine farces by Ben Travers from the 1920s to the early 1930s. Ayckbourn writes that he made only a few changes to the original script to accommodate his actors and the changed tastes of his contemporary audience. For the latter effect, he has not sacrificed the period atmosphere necessary to the play.
A bit of the absurd plot to entice: Aubrey is an aristocrat of “artistic temperament.” We see him eating scones and drinking tea late in the morning, leisure personified. Then comes the post, all letters from angry creditors or their shysters. Then, a bit of luck. His brother is dead and has left him tons of money. Unfortunately, as soon as he should get it, he would have to pay off the debts – a most unappealing thought. What to do? Why, fake your death, suggests Louise, his wily wife. And so he does – several times under several different pretenses and personas. But he’s not the only faker, his butler is also up to some mischief. Hilarious confusion is the result.
Under the direction of Joe Harmston the acting is very good indeed. The script gives all characters, principles and secondaries, an opportunity to make us really laugh. As Ayckbourn points out: “Actresses in general are rarely well served in farce – even to this day – being usually pushed to the sidelines, reduced to the role of awkward wife, menacing mother-in-law or haplessly well endowed damsel.” Not so in the case of Louise (played by Caroline Langrishe) who, as Ayckbourn elaborates, “is not only central, but actually dictates, in most instances, the course of the action.” Despite a few too many fussy, unnatural hand gestures, Langrishe was well worthy of this unique chance. As were all those around her. Mark Curry was an excellent Aubrey. Sprules (Christopher Timothy), frequently shifting between cockney and respectable butler, is a marvelous character and was acted perfectly. The stage directions for him and Simpson (Finty Williams), who are colleagues, lovers, and partners in deception, are particularly amusing. Giles (Keith Clifford), an old servant of very little purpose, is also hilarious in his slow, confused movements. “Henery,” an impostor and brother to Sprules, also causes great laughter with his alternating accents – an American adventurer; a pompous British aristocrat; a cockney. Miss Mullet (Janet Henfrey), a decaying old maid, aunt to Aubrey, speaks her frequent line: “No need to shout, I’m not deaf!” wonderfully. Jean (Lysette Anthony), hysterical and annoying, conveyed these traits with almost over-convincing authority.
The set, designed by Simon Scullion, was an excellent background to the often chaotic stage movements which sometimes called for Plautine running, disappearing, and reappearing. So too were the ducks carved out of the scenic shrubberies by Hedgehog Construction Ltd. The facial shrubbery too was well chosen by costume designer Darren Ware.
Alan Ayckbourn’s adaptation of this wonderful farce of the 1920s has been revived at a perfect time. We all need a frivolous laugh, with the constant woes provoked by the current economic recession. Close the cynical Times for a couple of hours, go to the King’s, and have a bit of fun!
 “With Plenty of Money and You,” a song of the 1930s, sung, for example, by Hal Kemp and His Orchestra.