Shakespeare, Wilde and Coward – they sure knew how to make their audiences laugh. Their comedies, from The Comedy of Errors to The Importance of Being Earnest to Hay Fever, were the most popular plays of the day. But where are all the modern farces? What happened to wit in contemporary theatre?
“I'm bringing it back, that’s the aim,“ says first-time playwright and performer Katherine Rodden. “I think it’s much more trendy, these days, to write really gritty dramas or something political. People don’t think farce is relevant anymore, but I think it is and I know that the audiences really enjoy it.“
A Woman of No Importance or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow is Katherine’s debut play and channels the high wit and family feuding of Britain’s great farce writers and is already drawing comparisons to the works of Alan Ayckbourn.
“I felt they’re lost on modern audiences,“ says the 28-year-old, “some of the references aren’t relevant anymore. It’s modernising and trying to keep that wit alive. It’s modern language, but it’s quite loquacious. There are lots of puns and wit and derogatory comments thrown around like in those old plays.“
The story follows Lauren, an emotionally unstable actress in her late 20s played by Katherine, who is having “a career crisis, a mental breakdown, an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and an even less healthy relationship with her parents.“
When her mother turns up one day saying she’s divorcing her husband, Lauren is forced to play middle man in her parents break-up.
“Lauren is the archetype actress,“ says Katherine, “over dramatic, a bit self-pitying and self indulgent. She’s at home getting drunk on a Friday night worrying about how badly her career’s going. Her mother comes round and pretty soon it turns into a full on farce – a farce in the true sense – fighting and things falling around, exits and entrances.“
The final scenes are so chaotic, Paradigm Theatre Company, the fringe repertory company producing the play, even commissioned a fight coordinator to choreograph the punches.
“A lot of the humour comes from picking up what somebody’s said and using it against them,“ says Katherine, who has recently returned to the UK following a tour of The Taming of The Shrew in Europe and Japan. “It’s that kind of repartee. A lot of it is in the awkwardness of the characters, like in a comedy of manners. It’s how people fail to communicate, how some things get missed and picked up on.
"The actors are so funny – even when they’re not talking, just watching them react.“
Seeing her first full-length play take shape on stage has been an experience for the actress.
“It’s really nice seeing how the actors interpret what you’ve written, that’s probably the nicest part of being a writer. They bring them to life and put their own ideas on the character. I feel like a bit of a child watching people in rehearsals.“
A witty comedy that observes just how insane families really are behind closed doors, A Woman of No Importance or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow could mark the return of the farce to modern theatres.
“It’s a favourite form of mine,“ adds Katherine. “There’s so much energy and you’ve really got to have that energy to do this style well or it just falls completely flat. It’s just exciting, exciting to watch. It would be nice if there was more of this style being written now – I hope to bring it back.“
A Woman of No Importance or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow is at Hen and Chickens Theatre, St Paul’s Road until February 23. Details: www.paradigmtheatrecompany.co.uk