Duplicity for Beginners

16th to 24th February 2024

Ben Mills-Wood | Blue Orange Theatre | Directed by Simon Ravenhill

With murder in the mix, Ben Mills-Wood’s latest play delivers frantic farce with a difference in this latest ambitious offering from the Jewellery Quarter’s Blue Orange Theatre, directed by Simon Ravenhill.

Room 206 at the Royal Manor Hotel is busy. Very busy. In classic farce style, the evening’s action unfolds in a single room and we are instantly thrown into a familiar world of mistaken identities, lies, deceit and more than a little opening and closing of doors.

Complicated and improbable plots are at the heart of the farce genre and ‘Duplicity for Beginners’ is no exception. We first meet Annie Swift’s Maria and her supposedly Shakra-obsessed vegan love interest Flo (Oliver Jones) as they check in. Maria’s husband David (Alan Groucott) soon follows and predictable chaos ensues. Jason Adam’s bell boy Sebastian and sexy chambermaid Norma (Haina Al-Saud) complete the cast, both adding further layers of misunderstandings and shocking revelations.

As its title suggests, duplicity is front and centre in this farcical slice of life. Nobody, it seems, is what they seem and it becomes quite a challenge to untangle the various cleverly woven plot strands. The cast rise impressively to the various challenges posed by the farce genre and events generally unfold with the high energy which a play like this demands. The action could be moved up the frantic scale a little at times but occasional lapses in pace are more than made up for by the cleverly structured plot and hilarious one-liners.

Annie Swift’s Maria is strong: an iron fist in a velvet glove. She is two-faced but there’s a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Struggling to keep his clothes on in yet another production, Oliver Jones is excellent as the oily Flo who is out for all he can get until avocadoes and hypnosis combine to thwart his plans. Alan Groucott’s superb comic timing helps to land many of the evening’s laughs as dishonourable husband David and Jason Adam’s bell boy is a masterclass in the physicality of farce.

The evening’s most memorable moments, however, go to Haina Al-Saud’s manic chambermaid Norma. In a performance which feels wonderfully unhinged at times, Al-Saud is marvellously ridiculous as she flouts and pouts around the stage. Her hypnosis-induced karaoke performances are comic highlights.

It all adds up to a bewildering, baffling, slightly bonkers night out. But a highly recommended one.

Duplicity for Beginners is playing at the Blue Orange Theatre in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter from 16th to 24th February 2024.