The elevation of a certain newspaper owning Russian Oligarch to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson may or may not have inspired Rory Mullarkey’s ferociously funny new play, Mates in Chelsea, which premieres at London’s Royal Court.
Like a modern day PG Wodehouse, Mullarkey skewers the upper classes with the kind of farcical wit that has the audience practically rolling in the aisles. Viscount Theodore ‘Tug’ Bungay’s superfluous housekeeper Mrs Hanratty (Amy Booth-Steel) may be a sassier and significantly more socialist version of Jeeves, but she still manages to get her master in and out of some hilarious japes.
Tug is burning through the family fortune at an alarming rate, splashing the cash on caviar, champagne and opium. His mother Agrippina (Fenella Woolgar) visits his Chelsea flat to inform him they have no choice but to sell the family pile to Russian dissident and wanted man, Oleg Mikhailovich Govorov.
Tug is aghast at the idea, and along with best friend Charlton and fiancé Finty Crossbell (Natalie Dew) embark on an audacious plan of impersonation and subterfuge. Needless to say it all descends into chaos and Tug, a loveable but ultimately self-centred rogue is left to pick up the pieces.
Mullarkey’s writing is politically astute while at the same time richly imbued with fantastic comedy. Mates in Chelsea might use familiar characters to tell its story, but it does so unashamedly, brutally carving up the political establishment with some not so subtle digs. It’s also not afraid to talk about the rise of English Nationalism and a sense of exceptionalism which may ultimately lead to it upsetting the establishment more than its portrayal of the cosy nature of Russian Oligarchs.
The first two acts are particularly funny. Laurie Kynaston is remarkable as wayward Tug, and succeeds in building up a character of many layers, waving off dismissively anyone who counters his narrative. George Fouracres as Charlton Thrupp easily becomes the audience favourite, with an outlandish character that’s played for laughs until the very end.
It might rely a little too much on dodgy accents and breaking-the-fourth-wall winks to the audience, but still it manages to entertain. The third act loses some of the comedy momentum and eventually detracts from much of the good done in the proceeding scenes, and that’s despite an absolutely cracking opening monologue from George Fouracres, which succeeds in making the audience suspend their laughter just long enough to hang on every word of Charlton Thrupp.
Sam Pritchard’s production feels pacey and energetic, and although it sometimes struggles to pull together all of it’s narrative threads there’s more than enough here to make it an enjoyable evening. Mates In Chelsea is braver than it first appears, taking satire to a level where some might not even realise that’s what it’s intended to be. It’s sure to upset the establishment in more ways than one, goodness knows what one particular free daily newspaper in London will make of it!
Mates in Chelsea is at the Royal Court until 16th December