Colombo’s patrons of the arts, along with a new bunch of exuberant youngsters, were entertained to an evening of blissful hilarity on  June 30 and July 1 and 2 at the Lionel Wendt, where a cast of fresh-faced and talented thespians from the Creative Art Foundation brought to life ‘Chaos at the Vicarage’. We lovers [...]


Chaos at the Vicarage: Tickled to bits, both cast and audience


A well executed quintessentially English farce

Colombo’s patrons of the arts, along with a new bunch of exuberant youngsters, were entertained to an evening of blissful hilarity on  June 30 and July 1 and 2 at the Lionel Wendt, where a cast of fresh-faced and talented thespians from the Creative Art Foundation brought to life ‘Chaos at the Vicarage’.

We lovers of outrageously contrived wartime farces have been starved of good entertainment of late, so it was a delight to sit through producer Jith Pieris’ Chaos at the Vicarage, based on Philip King’s classic British stage comedy ‘See How They Run’.  This period piece that has stood the test of time could not have been easy to pull off so kudos to Stage Manager Isthartha Wellaboda who orchestrated a challenging set-up remarkably well.

Set shortly after the end of WW2, this play is set in Merton-cum-Middlewick, a fictitious English village.  It opens with the lead character Penelope Toop, a former actress and now the Vicar’s flamboyant wife, tip-toeing back home with a friend, Allison, lustily singing ‘Over the Rainbow’.

The curtains open and we find ourselves in the living room of the Vicarage with Rev. Lionel Toop, played by Meth Bandaranaike portraying the mannerisms of a model country vicar, appeasing his flock in order to enjoy a quiet existence.  Until, that is, he is biffed on the head by an escaped German prisoner and stripped of his clothes – which then morphs him into an enraged, stampeding bull.

Before that particular pandemonium, however, Rev. Toop’s peaceful morning is shattered by the harsh intrusion of the formidable Miss Skillon.  For one so young, Tahiri Perera did well in her interpretation of this spinster stalwart of the parish (but a disgruntled whiner and gossip) who insists on complaining to Rev. Toop about Mrs. Toop.

Luckily for all, the sparky Cockney maid Ida manages to get rid of both Rev. Toop and Miss Skillon, just as Lance Corporal Clive Winton arrives somewhat unexpectedly.  Who is this, wonders Ida, clearly smitten by the handsome visitor.  All is revealed when the exuberantly fey Lance Corporal and the svelte Vicar’s wife (both ex-thesps) lapse into their old sparring acting roles, having toured together for 43 weeks in Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives’, many moons ago.

This scene was a superb enactment of farce, requiring physical agility and spot-on timing.  Punch lines were mostly delivered with deadly accuracy while the two actors remained just on the right side of caricature.  Well done Gowrienanthan Balarupan and Melmari Cruse.

This deliciously entertaining, rather high-spirited scene comes to an abrupt end when Miss Skillon makes yet another unwelcome entry and of course leaps to the wrong conclusion.   Right on cue, the strangely censorious maid Ida arrives and unceremoniously locks Miss Skillon in a broom cupboard.

Saranie Wijesinghe made for a game Cockney maid, displaying wide-eyed incredulity at the bizarre goings-on in her employers’ Vicarage.  She was the constant factor holding together the many threads amidst a stage that erupts with hilarious pandemonium.

Meanwhile, Penelope Toop and Lance-Corporal Clive Winton (now dressed in the Vicar’s clothes, pretending to be the visiting preacher Rev. Arthur Humphrey) make elaborate preparations to go out for the evening, incognito.  However, when the Bishop of Lax and the real Rev. Arthur Humphrey unexpectedly show up early, chaos quickly ensues – culminating in a cycle of running figures, mistaken identities, broom cupboards, French windows and a copious amount of Brandy.

Josiah Bulathsinhala ably portrayed the role of poor Rev. Arthur Humphrey, the bona fide visiting preacher who, when thrust into what seems like complete chaos, behaves with perfect decorum and charm.  His humouring of his hostess by accepting and savouring a make-believe glass of imaginary Brandy is a moment of comic genius.

The escalating absurdity continues with the entrance of a German intruder.  With his funny twitches, ridiculous moustache and startled expressions, Roshane Jayampathy made a convincing POW who in fact manages to convince everyone that he is the real Rev. Lionel Toop.  He almost gets away but is revealed and foiled by the quick thinking Lance Corporal Clive and maid Ida.

Clutching at dignity is hard when clad in ill-fitting striped pyjamas but, exploding in almost childish fury, Vikram Parathalingam as the Bishop is magnificent in his plummy delivery of the killer line, “Sergeant, arrest most of these Vicars!”

Things calm down as Towers the Sergeant (Visura Silva) eventually leads the German POW away.  Miss Skillon, now completely drunk on cooking sherry, emerges from the broom cupboard.  She, the Bishop and the Vicar demand an explanation.  Penelope Toop and Clive Winton begin to re-enact an elaborate explanation when Miss Skillon again manages to catch a blow in the face.  She falls back into the arms of the omnipresent maid Ida, as the curtain falls to Allison (Rashmi De S. Wijeyeratne) singing ‘Over the Rainbow’.

The curtain call evoked tumultuous applause, reaching a crescendo as Producer Jith Pieries took a final bow.  It was clear that the appreciative audience had enjoyed an evening of tense comic situations and headlong British humour.

And so ended a case of mistaken identities with 5 dog-collared clerics (of whom only 3 were the real thing!), a ludicrous fast-paced plot and a frightfully English setting.   Jith Pieries’ attention to detail made this quintessentially English farce a great success, with a clever play on words and performance, where timing was of the essence.

‘Chaos at the Vicarage’ had us in stitches as the fast-paced comedy took us from one hilarious scene to the escalating absurdity of the next.  What was so refreshing to see was that the entire cast was having the time of their lives on stage – their joy was infectious.

Bravo Jith Pieris!  Here’s looking forward to your next British comedy.

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