My Friend Miss Flint is a prime example of broad brush British humour, in this case taking a sledgehammer approach to the perennial bane of everybody’s life: income tax and the threat of coming under the scrutiny of the taxation office. When you’re in the hands of a dodgy accountant, the chances of scrutiny are immediately multiplied, and when the dodge includes inventing a person who gradually takes on a life of her own, you have a perfect set-up for a comedy of errors.
The first half of the play which sets the scene is a little slow-moving. Most of the responsibility for laughs depends on Shane Cassidy, as naïve academic gardener-turned-media-personality-about-town, Tom Lambert. Unfortunately, this responsibility weighs so heavily on his shoulders that he spends most of the time putting the ham into amateur, roaring his way through a performance that is so over-the-top it has nowhere to go when a laugh-line needs that extra mile, or even inch. He has an easier time of it, and settles down much more, in the second half of the show, when the plot escalates through a series of increasingly convoluted misunderstandings (some innocent and some contrived) among several characters who come into their own.
Of these, Godfrey Bathurst stands out as Albert Larkin, domestic cleaner and artful dodger extraordinaire of taxes. He brings a nice touch of laconic world-weariness to a part that moves from bystander to the core of one of the funniest scenes in the show. He shares that scene with Cynthia Lens, the prim Director of Taxes played by Anne Lyons. She gets some great lines and set pieces but doesn’t always make the most of them, in a performance that is a little studied. Rahnie Grainger, on the other hand, does sass to a T, as the mysterious Lucy Napier.
Rob Attenborough oils his way through the key role of Tax Inspector Gilbert Dodds with just the right amount of unctuous deviousness, while Selina Kadell plays Sarah Davenport, his natural opponent the accountant who is the witting architect of the whole scam smoothly and with a nice degree of understatement. And the whole troupe sustains a very credible range of very English accents.
The action takes place in Tom Lambert’s living room, and the setting by Godfrey Bathurst wearing his stage designer/constructor hats is a very busy one for the size of the stage, so the cast do well to avoid its hazards in the more physical moments. There is, too, an overabundance of plastic greenery, to hammer in the point of the residential green thumb. But then, you could say that all of that is in keeping with the spirit of the play, for which subtlety is not the byword.
And, as director Audrey Thompson points out, there is nothing deep and meaningful about this production. It aims to be a nice night’s very light entertainment, and in that, the audience was not disappointed at the well-attended performance I attended.