Surgeons: A Farce

MATTHEW WOLFSON is disappointed that “Surgeons” doesn’t quite make the cut.

Comedy Corpus Harriet Cartledge milo edwards Rob Foxall-Smith surgeons

Corpus Playroom, Tues 7th – Sat 11th May, 9.30pm, £6/£5 

Everyone was trying hard last night, but neither the acting nor the script gelled into anything comprehensive or satisfying. That’s unfortunate, because Surgeons has the bones of a fairly amusing farce.

The play is about three doctors, an administrator and a government inspector, all of whom interact within the confines of a deeply dysfunctional hospital. The doctors—Kate, Pete and Tom— are good-natured but indifferent about their jobs and spend most of their time glued to the TV. Ian, the bureaucrat, is more interested in sabotaging the competition than making sure his hospital’s working properly, while the Inspector is an interesting combination of sexual energy and aloofness.

The plot also includes a dead canary, a cadaver named Mr. Jones, and a woman in charge of the PA system who occasionally appears to editorialise on the action with a fulsome smile. It’s a strange set up for a play but it has the potential to be funny, and the plot is not uninteresting.

But if you’re writing a farce—and this plot, what with glue mishaps, “your mom” jokes, and cases of mistaken identity, is definitely farcical—you need to fulfil certain requirements. One of them is to provide the audience with near-constant humour: since the dialogue is funny in a ridiculous rather than a cerebral way, giving the audience time to think about what they’re seeing isn’t a good idea. We need to be swept away with the constant banging of doors and misplacing of bodies, so that, no matter how stupid the joke is, we’re primed to laugh.

The other requirement is sharply drawn performances: the delivery needs to be precise and confident, and the timing must be spot-on. Otherwise, again, the audience starts to think, and the reverie of slapstick is broken.

On both of these counts, Surgeons falls short. The pace is too slow, so the humour doesn’t cumulatively collect into hilarity, and occasionally the writing is simply unfunny (“I know you from somewhere,” “Your dreams, perhaps?”). Performance-wise, the actors show facility with their lines, but none of them confidently inhabit their characters. Thanks to the dialogue, we know that the Inspector’s both alluring and distant, and that Pete the surgeon is brash and bumbling, but the performers don’t bring those traits to life.

That’s not to say that they’re not skilled actors: Milo Edwards as Tom, Harriet Cartledge as the announcer, and Rob Foxall-Smith as Pete made me laugh out loud at certain lines and gestures. But these moments were intermittent and, overall, the cast seemed to be more focused on getting through the performance than enjoying it. There was a lot of potential onstage last night, but Surgeons needs more confidence from the actors and a sharper script.