Suzy Cripps’ The Optimists, a tightly-paced romp of hypocrisy, coincidence and curtains, is a solid comedy of errors in the best of British tradition.
Involving a bankrupt owner of a football club, an aristocratic Communist society, and various intertwined relationships, the play contains all the classic elements of a good comedy of errors—coincidence, farce and a dead body, all neatly tied up with a spread of more-or-less happy marriages. However, there is more than just agreeable humour in the play; the absurd hypocrisy of the Communist characters in particular at times hints at some sharp satire beneath the cosy surface, as do the less-than-romantic relationships on display. A grubbing obsession with material value and money is evident throughout, and none of the characters (excepting, perhaps, the mysterious Sophia) are immune. There is a certain bite in The Optimists, which punctuates and complements the gentle ribbing and free-flowing laughs.
The intimate space of the Burton-Taylor complemented the play, allowing the audience to notice the small quirks and tics that made the actors’ performances so effective. Pride of place must go to John Livesey (playing Sergei) and Elizabeth Mobed (Tatiana), whose rapid-fire dialogue and comic timing were particularly memorable. The number of characters was just apt—small enough so that they were individually distinct, but not to the extent that the stage felt empty or lacking in plot threads. Particularly strong was the physical comedy on display; it was very well done and extremely funny, especially during later scenes involving the attempt of several characters to hide evidence of a dead body while having breakfast in a local café.
While the first two scenes were somewhat slow (perhaps indicative of opening night tremors), once the play got into gear the action was quick, the dialogue slick and the laughs frequent. New characters are introduced throughout the length of the play, often as an abrupt sucker-punch to throw yet another spanner into the works for the hapless conspirators. Not all of these coincidences are expected either—while the play follows a fairly traditional format, there are enough surprises to prevent the audience becoming too comfortable.
Overall, The Optimists is a hugely enjoyable ride that is guaranteed to amuse, and a solid debut from a talented new playwright.