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The production of Dry Rot at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick is proving that there is still plenty to laugh at in a 50-year-old farce that features horse-nobbling, crooked bookies, funny foreigners, dropped trousers and a defective staircase.
John Chapman wrote the play for Brian Rix and his famous team at the Whitehall Theatre in London in 1954; it was an instant hit and ran for three and half years and 1475 performances. Amateur drama groups have never forgotten it, with productions still certain to put hordes of bottoms on seats in halls large and small up and down the country.
It has turned up less frequently on professional stages in recent years but Artistic Director Ian Forrest knew it was the perfect play for all the family at Theatre by the Lake. “Shows like that are hard to find, plays that people can happily bring younger children to,” he said. “Dry Rot is pure innocent fun. It’s also pure silliness and I thought it would go down really well with family audiences. It has been a long time since we have done anything aimed at that kind of audience.”
Previous family-friendly productions have included Arsenic and Old Lace, Around the World in Eighty Days and Sailor Beware.
Actors and members of the production team report that many parents are bringing children whose laughter is enriching the experience for everyone – especially audiences. “I remember, as a 12-year-old, watching Dry Rot on television on a Sunday night and I loved it,” added Forrest. “All the farces from that period are fantastically funny and very silly. And children are still laughing at them.
“At the first preview, two small children were enjoying it so much that they were rocking in their seats. They had the giggles all the time. And when children start to laugh at this play, they keep laughing because it’s so stupid. It increases the pleasure of the actors.
“The humour is so basic, so corny that I don’t think you can help laughing. I’m still laughing at my favourite bits and the cast say they can hear me laugh.”
There were extra laughs at one recent performance when a door jammed, leaving an actor to make an entrance through a secret panel that, at that stage of the plot, he didn’t know existed. The performance was stopped for eight minutes so that the door could be prized open; the incident then became a running gag for the rest of the night.
Applause has been warm at the final curtain but not everyone is happy. Forrest accepts that some people just don’t get farce but is unrepentant. “I’d love to stage another farce with this year’s Theatre by the Lake company because they are great at doing them,” he said.
Dry Rot runs until Fri 9 November. To book tickets for any of Theatre by the Lake’s Summer Season productions call Box Office on 017687 74411 or book online at www.theatrebythelake.com