Life & Culture

Jack Absolute Flies Again Theatre review: Fruity fun as rivals take to the skies

Writing duo behind One Man, Two Guvnors have created another rollickingly good farce


Royal National Theatre London JACK ABSOLUTE FLIES AGAIN Bob 'Wingnut' Acres - James Corrigan Peter Kingsmith - Theo Cowan Jack Absolute - Laurie Davidson Dudley Scunthorpe - Kelvin Fletcher Sir Anthony Absolute - Peter Forbes Flight Sergeant Sampson - Shailan Gohil Ensemble - Millie Hikasa Lucy - Kerry Howard Ensemble - Chris Jenkins Ensemble - George Kemp Ensemble - Joanne McGuinness Roy Faulkland - Jordan Metcalfe Mrs Malaprop - Caroline Quentin Bhaggi 'Tony' Khattri - Akshay Sharan Lydia Languish - Natalie Simpson Brian Coventry - Tim Steed Ensemble - Geoffrey Towers Ensemble - Shona White Julia Melville - Helena Wilson Production team: Director - Emily Burns Set and Costume Designer - Mark Thompson Lighting Designer - Tim Lutkin Composer - Paul Englishby Sound Designer - Paul Arditti Video Designer - Jeff Sugg Choreographer - Lizzi Gee Physical Comedy Director - Toby Park for Spymonkey Fight Director - Bret Yount

Jack Absolute Flies Again
National Theatre | ★★★★✩

It was always a tall order for writers Richard Bean and Oliver Chris to repeat the rampaging success of their smash hit One Man, Two Guvnors. And they haven’t.

But by using many of the same ingredients, such as updating an 18th-century comedy (in this case Sheridan’s The Rivals), casting it with top comedy talent (here led by Caroline Quentin’s Mrs Malaprop), packing the show with direct address to the audience and single entendre gags so fruity it is hard to imagine anything was cut because it was too rude, the writing duo undoubtedly have created another rollickingly good farce.

All these ingredients combine to serve an affectionate lampooning of wartime Englishness. Set in 1940 against a backdrop of West Sussex rolling hills, the cherry on designer Mark Thompson’s chocolate box set is a Hurricane fighter plane suspended over Mrs Malaprop’s mansion which has been requisitioned by the RAF.

Not that she minds. “I’ve always liked a man in uniform,” she confides. “I was hoping for a bomber squadron. A rear gunner who might find a little R and R with me appealing.”

The madcap plot hinges — or unhinges — on eponymous fighter pilot Jack (Laurie Davidson) who wants to revive the fling he had with Lydia Languish (Natalie Simpson).

But the war has blurred boundaries.

Upper and working classes are mucking in together to beat the Nazi threat and Lydia is now not only also a fearless flyer but fancies the squadron’s beefy, tattooed, mechanic from Yorkshire, the geographically named Dudley Scunthorpe (Kelvin Fletcher).

So does Mrs Malaprop’s maid Lucy (Kerry Howard) who does her best to scupper Lydia’s plans to slum it with her intended. Meanwhile, Jack dons a moustache, a tattoo and a Yorkshire accent to trick Lydia into falling for him instead of poor bemused Dudley, who has anyway fallen for Lucy as much as she has for him.

If there were doors on the set they would slam, and if there were a vicar his trousers would fall. But only in a way that simultaneously subverts and pays homage to the conventions of farce which is the knowing now-familiar signature of the writers.

Emily Burns’s production doesn’t generate the freewheeling chaos that so characterised Nicholas Hytner’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors. Yes, the sudden jitterbug musical routine prompts roars of approval from the audience but the moment was also an admission that the show had become static and needed a jump start.

Much more fitting are the flying sequences in which the roar of the Hurricane’s Merlin engines fill the air and our ridiculous upperclass twits become brave, scared 20-somethings fighting for their lives and their country. In that sense the show mirrors the best of the famous Blackadder finale when poking fun at ourselves gives way to unbearable poignancy.

Here the switch in mood isn’t quite so harrowing, nor is the earlier comedy as funny as that in Guvnors. For those who know there is no equivalent to that show’s landmark “hummus sandwich” gag.

But if we held out for moments as moving and funny as those, we’d miss out on some hugely entertaining evenings, including this one.

Jack Absolute Flies Again will be screened in UK cinemas via NT Live from 6 October.

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