BWW Reviews: DONKEYS' YEARS, Rose Theatre Kingston, February 18 2014

Off the leash and on the lash, the lads are back at their Cambridge college 25 years after graduating and determined to have a good time. With plenty of wine to loosen tongues and plenty of pent-up frustration to loosen belts, things soon start to go awry - indeed, things get (literally) farcical!

Donkeys' Years is, at 38, almost as old as its characters and has aged as well as most of them. If the fashions have changed - was there really that much polyester - the laddish chat and petty oneupmanship of blokish conversation has altered not an iota. Nor has the capacity of an old flame to light long dormant passions. And, now as then, if something can go wrong - it will.

It's a delight to see and hear the unmistakable Keith Barron (of TV sitcoms past) beadling about as College Porter Mr Birkett - he looks no different in 2014 than he did in 1984! Jamie Glover is pompously hapless as a floundering cabinet minister, his gnawing ambition softened by plenty of charm and a commitment to what's right that is even more anachronistic than his flares resting round his ankles . Rather less charming, but even funnier, is Ian Hughes as the ethical pharmacist who missed out on the high jinks in his three years as an undergraduate and decides to pack the whole lot into one weekend. Jemma Redgrave, as the Mistress of the College (no smirking at the back now), is radiantly funny and so terribly sad too - a fantastic performance.

And yet... and yet... For me, it doesn't quite work. No fault of the production or the play - fault of the form. I can admire the technical mastery of the writing and the acting (and a set design that gets them on and off stage so quickly), but farces never quite strike home. Like watching someone bake the most perfect cake on a television show, I admire the skill and the artistry, but I'm left too distant from the end product to appreciate it fully. Is anything in theatre as subjective as humour?

Donkey's Years continues at the Rose Theatre Kingston until 22 February.

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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