Ben Travers made his name and the name of the Aldwych Theatre with a ten-year string of acclaimed farces in the twenties. Eight decades on, hes on the stage again but is there still catharsis to found in the calamitous clashing of the classes?
Plunder is set shortly after the demise of Mr. Hewlett, a wealthy loner with a vast country estate. In his wake, seven hopefuls jostle for command of his legacy.
The most assertive claim that of his wife, a former housekeeper who seized his moribund hand in marriage. Mrs. Hewlett has thus elevated herself and her gauche son, Oswald Veal, into polite society though polite they are certainly not.
After years abroad, his granddaughter Joan and her (again, suspiciously recent) lover DArcy return to usurp these opportunists; upon arrival they find the law very much working against them, and DArcy takes it upon himself to illicitly reclaim the booty.
Far too incompetent to do so alone, Tuck is recruited by Freddy Malone a professional con-artist who is already way ahead of him. Together with his partner Prudence installed as a potential suitor for Oswald they concoct a devious plan to deprive Mrs. Hewlett of her riches.
Unfortunately, matters are complicated by Oswalds blackmailing uncle Simon, whose own scheming flaws the robbery and ultimately leads to his death. The jewels are stashed, but the stakes are irretrievably raised.
Under the unwavering scrutiny of Scotland Yard, Freddy and DArcy have to fathom out what really happened that fateful night, if they are to keep hold of the plunder and escape the hangman.
Plunder is a tangled web by all accounts, unfortunately the situation is too meticulously constructed – the relationships too carefully laid out – for the payoff to be worth the lengthy investment. After a promising start, the tension soon subsides – and whilst the third act improves upon its precursors, the overall feeling is one of deflation.
That Plunder has dated is inescapable. Rather than sharing in the characters embarrassment, as we would expect to, we instead find ourselves cringing for the actors and actresses who, despite appearing to really savour their roles, are lumbered with a near impossible task.
There are some jolly good laughs in there, but they are often lost amongst the unpalatable fat jokes, the comedy lisps and pantomime stupidity; yet we see the beginnings of post-modernity the undermining of roles and overbearing commentary and it seems a pity that director Heather Davies didnt consider a more ironical approach to the text.
Timing was a little loose on occasion, much to the detriment of Travers wordplay; the physical humour, however, was spot-on, and Davies has proved herself a talented choreographer. Many players have dual roles, and delineate these admirably; Hugh Futchers dexterity is a source of pleasure in itself.
Oscar Pearce seemingly delights in hyperbole, his impish portrayal of DArcy hitting precisely the right note. Sackille too is well suited, Malones character sophisticated and calculating.
Plunder is, at best, an amicable play, well-drilled and earnest; unfortunately, rose-tinted spectacles are requisite, and are not provided at the door.