NO INNOCENT LAUGHTER
James Green’s dark comedy is set in a rural English village – not one full of happy yokels who are close to the land; but of wealthy self-regarding and viciously competitive media types. It opens with one of these shrill-voiced brittle characters listening to the complaints of the vicar, who is not the usual vaguely harmless Anglican old boffer, but a young, heavy-drinking and entirely cynical woman, who, it turns out, is expected merely to represent part of rural charm for her parishioners, and not to have any spiritual or moral influence. Indeed, spiritual and moral concerns are entirely absent among the cast of characters as they pursue a labyrinthine plot full of snobbery, greed, adultery, plotting, and murder. In and among there are plenty of gags in this tightly-directed and fast-paced farce, as everyone insults and plots against everyone else, and the vicar drinks herself insensible; a plot which winds eventually to an unexpected and bleakly comic denouement. The script is somewhat tortuous, and the cast run at it full-tilt, but in the end the piece suffers somewhat from portraying the characters too much as grotesque caricatures, rather than having any kind of real persona that might elicit empathy, however slight. And playing everything at top volume starts to feel a tad relentless at times. A case, if ever there was one, of ‘less is more’. Nevertheless, it produces plenty of laughs and its audience is appreciative. Poking fun at the rich and pretentious never goes amiss.
John Christopher Wood