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Safari Party opening night review 17 May 2018 Paul Stammers does the honours once again. Anyone for buttyball?

Ah, but not being from rural Cheshire, you won’t have heard of it, nor tasted Tollycurney ...

Buttyball is a type of table golf played by rustics - at least in this broad satire on countryside fakery by Tim Firth, who penned the hit Calendar Girls. The table in question is a central character, taking various guises. Is it a 19th century games surface? Hewn from the wood used for grandpa’s ferry? Or just furniture from a car boot sale? Lies abound, prompted by a range of motives.

This farce, about a roving dinner party where each course is hosted at a different home, had the audience on the opening night chortling loudly from the outset. The cast relished the opportunity to send up caricatures - in particular, Gareth Hammond was rip-roaringly xenophobic and garrulous as businessman Lol (an apt name, given its text-speak meaning) - and did a fine job, considering the added pressure of being the play’s director (albeit assisted by Deborah Lisburne Diacon and Denise Santilli). Gillian Somerscales was a treat - caked in eyeliner and limping on high heels, she was convincingly pretentious and highly strung as Lol’s snobbish wife Esther. Some of the strongest scenes were their confrontations with antiques dealer Inga (Lesley Robinson), whose preposterous garb and make-up belies a ruthless streak.

The younger cast members occupy more serious roles - Isaac Alcock made an impressive debut with the Players as Adam, a struggling farmer who tries to protect his younger brother Daniel from a nasty home truth. Joe O’Connor was compelling as the twitchy and traumatised sibling, haunted by the death of his abusive father. Eloise Sheffield makes a welcome second appearance with the Players, having had a minor role previously in Relative Values; here she was sassy and intelligent as Lol and Esther’s cringing daughter Bridget. Despite the Players’ perennial appeal for ‘new blood’, the group clearly has no problem attracting new talent.

Unusually for the Players, the set is minimalist but adept use of sound and lighting helps set each scenes. Don’t be alarmed by a warning before the curtain rises about a shotgun - it’s not actually very disturbing, although you may well jump when something falls from the ceiling.

The play isn’t without flaws. It’s difficult to place despite the alleged 1998 setting: the mentions of satellite TV, ‘Ready Steady Cook’ and rap vie with strains from Bert Kaempfert’s 1962 ‘Swinging Safari’ melody and in this production, Bridget’s hairstyle seems on loan from the 1980s. Regional accents meander too, although all the cast’s delivery is confident and clear. However, this is a production with impeccable credentials - something Lol and Esther would approve of.

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