Farce is easy to laugh at and difficult to perform. There needs to be precise order and timing behind the chaos for each joke and pratfall to land squarely. Imperial College Dramatic Society has gamely attempted a spritely production of Italian playwright Dario Fo’s farce The Virtuous Burglar. The cast give it their all, but are plagued by sloppy timing and problems with pacing. There some serendipitous moments when they get the timing down, but the show needs precision and polish to really make the most of this classic farce.

A farce has to keep moving fast to work, but The Virtuous Burglar hurtles along until the dialogue becomes unintelligible.

The plot, as in any good farce, rests on a series of misunderstandings. A burglar is interrupted while at work and forced to seek refuge inside a grandfather clock. A series of increasing confused characters arrive at the apartment he’s attempting to burgle, so he doesn’t stay in there for too long. The cast are all marvellously energetic, with the exception of the Burglar, Obi Thompson Sargoni, who just seems too sleepy to successfully burgle anything. The supremely bendable Nicholas Pimparé does give a decent performance as the Man. Pimparé is about 95% limbs and most of the show’s best physical gags come from his windmilling arms and gangling legs.

The rest of the cast matches Pimparé’s willingness to go for physical humour, as the show demands, but are plagued by poor line delivery. The emphasis often goes on the wrong word, making dialogue sound unnatural and murdering the comic timing. Also, the entire cast (with the exception of the somnambulant Sargoni) talks altogether too fast, particularly in the second half. A farce has to keep moving fast to work, but The Virtuous Burglar hurtles along until the dialogue becomes unintelligible. At the denouement, when everyone is thoroughly embroiled is one massive misunderstanding, all the humour rests on the audience knowing more than the witless characters. The Virtuous Burglar loses us just where it needs us most. The physical humour can also get a bit sloppy — feet keep clattering around the stage and further obscuring the dialogue. A farce is supposed to be panic, but it needs a finely controlled mania to keep from losing clarity.

While both the verbal and physical humour are sometimes poorly executed, the tech is crisp and well timed — one bit with a faulty radio worked very well. With a bit more polishing from the actors and director, The Virtuous Burglar would be a frothy, fun show worth seeing. The poster features a clock — the Dramatic Society should really know that it’s all in the timing. 

Reviews by Lauren Moreau

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The Blurb

A farce by Nobel prize winning playwright, Dario Fo (Accidental Death of an Anarchist). Cast : Burglar, Burglar’s wife, Man, Man’s lover, Man’s wife, Man’s wife’s lover. (You don’t need to know much more than that, really). A wife nagged burglar is caught red-handed by a loved-up cuckolded proprietor, so the burglar hides in a grandfather clock. Then, somebody else’s wife arrives with her lover, another cuckold, so he, too, has to hide inside the grandfather clock. From there, events get ridiculous.