Play Reading in English - Dry Rot by John Chapman


HK English Speaking Union
  • Mon 18-12-2017 7:15 PM - 2 h


Free admission


This month's Christmas play reading, Dry Rot, is a farce from the British tradition, and is thus in tune with the Christmas pantomime season and coincidentally the October play-reading, considering the farce genre’s roots in Italian commedia dell'arte. Farce has been defined as comedy at 100mph and Dry Rot fits that tradition. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the Whitehall Theatre in London was famous for staging a series of farces that ran for years to very full houses. Theatre of this type depends very much on split second timing, agility and interaction with the audience


Dry Rot was one of the five Whitehall farces put on by the great late British comedian Brian Rix, who died only last year, although the piece was written by John Chapman in 1954 a comic playwright who later went on to write over 200 such pieces for television. In fact Dry Rot has been voted one of the top 100 best English-language stage plays. One of Brian Rix's actors was Andrew Sachs who later became famous in the 1970s in the equally farcical role of Manuel in the BBC comedy Fawlty Towers. In fact Dry Rot can be seen as a precursor of Fawlty Towers in that it is set in an old country house hotel (with the attendant dry rot in the stairs), a rather lunatic maid, and a peculiar retired couple, who run the establishment. The comic plot focuses on the very first customers of this hotel, who turn out to be crooked racecourse bookmakers from an era when betting shops located in the High Street didn't exist, as they do today. These first clients are secretly trying to fix an upcoming horse-race, thereby making themselves a huge and illegal profit. In other contexts, such as in Hong Kong and France, betting is done by a single authorised organisation (the Jockey Club in HK’s case), not by individuals or companies.


Dry Rot was written in 1954 at a time when foreign travel was unusual, and therefore the French jockey in the drama is a figure of fun. In fact, farce relies on very obvious and basic humour with no place for introspection and postmodern irony or indeed political correctness, so that the action is fast and furious with doors slammed and lines shouted. The Play that Goes Wrong, produced in HK in September at the APA and read in one of our sessions last year, is a spoof on this genre and style of theatre. The play is regularly revived and goes on national tours. While the plot may be far-fetched, it is no more so than high-culture opera, for example. With farce, and with this one in particular, audiences can enjoy the period setting, the fast paced action and the obvious jokes that do not require too much subtlety to appreciate. Do join us on Monday December 18th at the Fringe Club for a rotten fun evening!


Facilitators: Julian Quail; Mike Ingham

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