The jokes start even before the curtain’s gone up on this musical farce. It’s a classic set-up of mistaken identity, twins, inept hiding, revolving doors, cross dressing, and all that malarkey. In fact, the dafter and more corny the plot, the better it gets.
The first of these two one-act plays, themselves not twins but certainly brothers in arms, is Victorian. Mr Cox the printer and Mr Box the hatter are unwittingly sharing a room. Their landlady Mrs Bouncer (Paul Ryan) is of course orchestrating the ripoff. But things get tense when Mr Box comes home early.
Here, all the players are cross dressing and what a boost it gives to the laughs. Charlotte Harwood (Box) and Lara Stubbs (Cox) are each fine singers and actors, but it’s when they get together that the music really soars. That said, it’s hard to top the surreal ‘Hush-a-bye bacon’ solo by Stubbs as she serenades her breakfast.
Racing on to the second play, we’re now in the present and it’s role reversal for the players as they become sleazy landlord Bob Narks and his twin Polish lodgers. Now the trick is on him as they pretend to be one person. But any sympathy for his rent loss is stamped on by his xenophobic ranting.
Writer Chris Monks, who also directs, and his musical collaborator Richard Atkinson take a risk in matching their new comic opera with Sir Arthur Sullivan’s original. It’s well up to the task, the pairing working to produce a great evening’s entertainment. Atkinson at the keys on stage throughout is another delight.
The first play has the advantage of the costumes and some great opportunities for the singers to show off their voices. The second has more bite, and equally good lyrics. A topical paean to all things Yorkshire – oh yes, we’re pals with the French after le Tour but still deadly rivals when it comes to national treasures – makes for a rousing finale.
Cox & Box – Mrs
Bouncer’s legacy runs at the SJT until 30 August.