A UK tour of See How They Run is the debut show of the newly-formed The Reduced Height Theatre Company, spearheaded by Willow- and Star Wars-star Warwick Davis. The intention is to give great theatre parts to short actors under four feet in height. As well as Warwick Davis, there are plenty of familiar faces from the big screen amongst the cast of talented short actors.
See How They Run is an English farce written in 1945 by Philip King. It follows the traditional set-up of witnessing the frantic goings-on inside the vicarage as the Reverend Toop (Warwick Davis) and his vivacious actress wife Penelope (Rachel Denning) host a variety of larger than life characters. Penelope’s old flame Clive (Phil Holden) is in town, whilst her uncle the Bishop of Lax (Jon Key) arrives unexpectedly. Throw in the neighbourhood busybody (Francesca Papagno) and an escaped Nazi (Raymond Griffiths) and you have all the ingredients for a traditional farce, incorporating mistaken identities, assumed guises, sexual innuendo and a variety of misunderstandings.
The great thing about See How They Run is the cast. Warwick Davis, who especially has the star pulling power (and is also producer), proves a natural on stage as well as screen. If anything, he plays the straight man with whom the audience identifies, though he does get to run around in his undergarments shouting ‘Heil, Hitler’ after a blow to the head… It’s Francesca Mills who steals the show as Ida the maid, forever wandering it at precisely the wrong/right moment. Her comic timing is perfect, and her exuberant physical performance is hilarious – certainly a highlight.
Whilst the cast is fantastic, and director Eric Potts does a great job of keeping the energy high and ratcheting up the tension the more and more absurd the plot becomes, it’s hard to be as equally enamoured of the play itself. See How They Run is a reasonable pot-boiler farce, but the jokes miss as often as they hit. When it was originally written, the war-scarred populace needed pure escapism, which the play undoubtedly is: but the intervening decades haven’t been kind, and it now feels all rather safe and dated. It doesn’t compare favourably to the likes of Frayn’s Noises Off.
The company bring out the best from a mediocre play (it has to be said that the second half picks up considerably) and in this they are aided by excellent design (Barney George) that provides two levels whilst keeping the stage open at the same time. The dimensions of the vicarage have been scaled down to the proportion of the actors, which is a neat and satisfying illusion.
There are laughs to be had out of See How They Run, and it makes for a lively evening’s entertainment. With a more inspired piece of writing to work from, the Reduced Height Theatre Company really will be a force to be reckoned with.