All those doors is the first clue that we’re in the land of farce. After all, how many apartment living rooms have six (count’em) doors leading off who-knows-where, in addition to stairs leading up to a second floor?  Only the needs of farce (plenty of “he goes out just as she comes in” moments and slammed doors galore) could inspire such a floor plan. Then there are the intercoms (not one, but two) and a hatch opening on to the kitchen that keeps flying down and shutting. Clearly we’re going to be in for an evening of screwball merriment.

The farce in question is Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot’s megahit No Sex Please, We’re British. (That’s actually one of the characters’ lines at a particularly risqué moment.)  Opening in 1971, No Sex Please, We’re British went on to play 6761 performances on London’s West End, making it the eighth-longest-running West End show ever.

Audiences can now discover what made Londoners roar with laughter for over sixteen years in a fast-paced, cleverly directed and terrifically acted production at The Norris Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates.

No Sex Please, We’re British centers on assistant bank manager Peter Hunter (Brian Stanton) and Frances (Rebecca Morris), his bride of three weeks, who share an apartment above the bank where he works. In an effort to earn some pocket money by selling Scandinavian glassware Tupperware style, Frances has sent off for a sample.  What arrives at her door, though, is not glassware but a box full of photos of a decidedly pornographic nature. Soon, Peter and Frances’s apartment is inundated with Adults Only delights—reels of skin flicks, encyclopedia-sized volumes of erotic fiction, and a pair of “working girls” (Laura J. Thatcher and Kayla Emerson). Adding to the mayhem and merriment are bank’s easily excitable chief cashier Brian Runnicles (Jason M. Hammond), Peter’s rather stuffy mother Eleanor (Eileen T’Kaye), his very proper boss Mr. Bromhead (Nick Santa Maria), visiting bank inspector Mr. Needham (Barry Pearl) and police superintendent Vernon Paul (Karl Jaecke).

At its raciest No Sex Please, We’re British offers no raunchier than PG-13 punch lines and sight gags (though a pair of gentlemen’s buns is oh-so-briefly revealed).  What audiences do have in store are laughs aplenty, brilliant direction by master-of-farce Todd Nielsen, and some of the best comedic acting in town.

There’s not a brighter, more winning comedy leading man than Stanton, and Morris matches his performance (as well as looking quite shapely in her undergarb).  A deliciously droll Santa Maria has toned down his Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum flamboyance here, and Pearl too plays beautifully against type as fussy Mr. Needham. As always, T’Kaye proves herself a topnotch comedienne, Jaecke nails every laugh as Superintendant Paul, and Thatcher and Emerson are sexy treats as the eager-to-please ladies of the night. Jason Sluyter has a nice cameo as a delivery man.  Best of all is a brilliantly over-the-top Hammond, whose many pratfalls and repeated shrieks make him a slapstick joy. 

The production looks great, from Rex Heuschkel’s expansive London flat set to Diana Mann’s spot-on 1960s costumes to Christina Munich’s excellent lighting.  Diane Moses and Matt Janszen’s sound design feature 60s hits by Dusty Springfield and Herman’s Hermits and plenty of buzzers buzzing.

With Nielsen at the helm, even the imaginatively staged curtain calls merit laughter and applause. Only the most prudish could fail to have a smashing time at No Sex Please, We’re British.

Norris Theatre For The Performing Arts, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Rolling Hills Estates.

–Steven Stanley
January 29, 2010

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