Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Keith Bruce

four stars

NOT being familiar with Ben Travers's 1927 farce – and there are few other places one might see it these days – the coup de theatre that brings Thark to a close still came as a surprise. I cannot say how it previously ended, but the final revision of the text by Clive Francis is certainly dramatic.

It is only the clearest evidence of radical revision in a version originally seen the Park Theatre in London three years ago with Francis in the central role of Sir Hector Benbow, played here by Mark Elstob. As well as reshaping the structure of the play, Francis has taken a knowing and even ironic approach to some of the dialogue, building in nods and winks to dated vocabulary, as well as parachuting in his own gags. The effect is, inevitably, to make the play seem more a pastiche of the time of its setting, but that does little damage to what is a frothy confection in the first place, and makes all of its class-based humour (on which hinges most of the plot) easier to take in a egalitarian age.

All of which would be wasted effort if director Ken Alexander and the ensemble did not make such a superb job of a hugely demanding form, with timing and delivery that looks effortless but is anything but. Alongside Elstrob, John Winchester's Ronny Gamble and George Arvidson's Lionel Frush meet their matches in Lady Benbow (Helen Logan), Kitty Stratton (Tabitha Tingey) and Cherry Buck (Hannah Howie), with Greg Powrie, Anna McGarahan, and Dougal Lee complicating matters from below stairs. Alexander has the whole company precision-drilled.