Desperation, confusion, and exasperation

January 10, 2016

B Theatre’s latest theatrical offering, interestingly titled Out of Order, turns out to be a showcase of the comical aspect of an unplanned game of deception

Desperation, confusion, and exasperation

It is said that a truth is spoken but once, and a lie, a thousand times. This simple maxim was brought to life in the farcical comedy, titled Out of Order.

Directed by Waleed Zaidi, this B Theatre Co. production was a showcase of the comical aspect of an unplanned game of deception. Fast-paced and hilarious, the play drew on innuendos and a deteriorating control over circumstances to entertain Lahorites with a typical British comedy.

Ray Cooney, the British playwright who penned this farcical play in 1990, recently wrote about what he considers to be the defining characteristics of a good farce. He is of the opinion that tragedy, rather than some ‘comical’ plot, provides the base upon which a comedy of errors is built. Out of Order is no exception. It is the sense of impending doom that spurs the central characters in the play into bumbling action.

The plot follows the trajectory of an unusually eventful night in the life of Richard Willey, a cocky politician introduced as a junior minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government. The storyline is simply the fallout from the web of lies spun by Willey to extricate himself from the awkward situation of being discovered in a hotel room with a woman who is not his wife, a problem further compounded by the unsettling presence of an unidentified dead body in the room.

The plot, as it is said, thickened. Enter the reluctant savior, George Pigeon. The storyline might have placed Willey at the centre of the farce but the play belonged just as much to the cunning politician’s naïve personal parliamentary secretary, George Pigeon.

Ian Eldred played the bumbling and confused secretary to a T, effortlessly portraying the easily manipulated man who is unable to say not my circus, not my monkeys.

Eldred’s Pigeon was the perfect foil to Ali Tahir’s suave and calculating Richard Willey. The contrast between the quick-witted and selfish Willey and the helpful but slow Pigeon was ably highlighted by the two actors.

Desperation, confusion, and exasperation were the play’s mainstays. Every character, from Willey to the hotel manager, desperately tries to put an end to the chaos in suite 648 of the Westminster Hotel and comprehend what is going on. But the story continues to become more convoluted as Willey and Pigeon race to match their wits with a situation that appears to be spiraling out of their control. Lies come fast and thick as more and more characters enter and exit that fateful suite.

The characters in the play seemed to be involved in a comic dance that mocked Willey and Pigeon’s efforts to retain their dignity. There was, however, a real ‘dance’ sequence in the play that stole the spotlight.

The presumably dead private detective John Baker, whose ‘dead body’ is the source of Willey and Pidgin’s dilemma, could have been the most unremarkable character on stage. But Momin Masood played dead very well. The corpse’s acrobatic ‘dance’ with Willey and Pigeon on Lou Bega’s Mambo No.5 was an entertainment show in itself. Kudos to the three actors and their choreographer for synchronising expressions and movements with the storyline.

Cooney’s second ingredient for a successful farce was the portrayal of ordinary people characterised by their unsuccessful attempts at dealing with a complex situation. His argument is again that what is tragic in real life can be used as fodder for comedy as long as the audience can relate to it. The universal nature of the characters and situations in Out of Order could be gauged by the standing ovation given by the audience. Particularly relatable for the Pakistani audience was the self-absorbed character of the ambitious politician. The references to the unwarranted use of public money for personal use and the exploitation of political loyalty to ensure support in a bizarre personal problem could have been inspired by the local news.

Though every playwright intends to bestow each of his characters with a unique personality, it is rare that every actor in a play is able to adequately portray that identifying characteristic. Out of Order’s lineup had some fine performances. Shah Fahad was very much in character as the smart-alecky Italian houseboy. The angry and jealous Ronnie Worthington, well portrayed by Hashim Imran, was strangely reminiscent of Boman Irani’s ill-tempered ‘Mamoo’ in the Bollywood hit Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.

Last but not the least, it requires some serious directorial talent to bring to hold together the multiple strands of a script which depends on deliberate confusion to elicit laughs.

All in all, a well-acted and directed play that retains its comic spirit through all the chaos and multiple entries and exits in suite 648. The cast and crew of Out of Order appear to have internalised the playwright’s instructions on how to present a farcical comedy. Ray Cooney would be proud of this Pakistani production.

Desperation, confusion, and exasperation