Megan Cooper enjoys the riotous classic farce The Magistrate, presented by Ooook! Productions.

Before a frustratingly small audience in the Assembly Rooms Theatre, the cast of Ooook! Productions’ The Magistrate offer a laugh-out-loud night of marital untruths, melodramatic irony and gloriously shabby physical gags. Sometimes struggling with the typical wordiness of Arthur Wing Pinero’s fin de siècle farce, the stand-out chemistry of Katherine Briggs’ and Alistair Hall’s often hopeless Mrs and Mr Posket keep up the momentum towards a chaotic yet cathartic climax.

Director Keir Mulcahey creates an atmosphere of Victorian propriety immediately; pianist Paul Dirk soundtracks the audience’s arrival on an electric keyboard, alongside the upright piano which acts only as part of the furniture in Mr Posket’s Bloomsbury abode. This apparently anachronistic presence on stage is deftly addressed in a comfortingly familiar musical gag, easing the audience into a night of self-aware silly comedy. Drawing attention to gender switched characters also confidently finds the laughs it searches for.

The cast takes a little while to warm up – forgivable first night nerves –  but the stage is soon illuminated with Agatha’s (Briggs) nose-in-the-air pomposity. The little white lie of her age – and consequently her son’s – told some years prior to the action of the play, unravels over the course of a few hours in typically convoluted and complicated fashion. Exposition through the dialogue is then important to understanding the plot, and thankfully it is through Briggs’ playful confidence that we become acquainted with the set-up.

Each scene has depth and variation; there is always something to watch in the background – Annabel Grace’s bored sister in the Hôtel des Princes scene is particularly enjoyable – and characters are forever addressing the audience. This device is mostly successful, however not all of these thoughtful nuances of character can be clearly viewed or heard. The furniture and arrangement also often feels like another unnecessary complication to navigate, each scene change taking too long for too little reward. The rewards of the transition from house to club are however reaped in the form of Ben Willows’ Lukyn; although many of the waiters’ gags fall flat, his brash shouty Colonel demands attention. Hall and Willows’ comic sparring later on in the heart of the tension of Act Three elicited a high laugh-to-line ratio, but it is the latter who steals the scene with a ‘Good Morning!’

The perpetual high-pitched incredulity and nervousness of Hall works best alongside his significant other, and his step-son Cis (Rory Gee), whose charming wise-beyond-his-years stage presence leaves the audience wanting more than his stage time allows. When delivering an (impressively) long monologue, Hall tends to be overshadowed by the chaotic tech, but his endearing take on the character of The Magistrate is always entertaining to watch.

Although rough around the edges at times, distinctive, memorable characters and some moments of superb line delivery provides for an overall very watchable and suitably ridiculous farce; in a show dependent upon the audience/performer relationship, a more generously filled theatre would no doubt increase the show’s impact.

The Magistrate will be performed at the Assembly Rooms Theatre on 6th and 7th December at 7:30pm, with a 2:30pm matinee on 7th.

Image: Ooook! Productions