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Viewers get their money's worth

MTC Productions' ``Funny Money", designed and directed by Mithran Devanesen, was a brilliant exercise in insanity, observes ELIZABETH ROY.

``FUNNY MONEY" felt so right in the exquisitely refurbished Museum Theatre. People came to the show, sat down, relaxed and laughed their way through two whole hours. The sophisticated slapstick from Ray Cooney was a fast paced farce full of frenetic action and clever wordplay. On his way home, Perkins (P. C. Ramakrishna) stops to open his briefcase. Instead of his gloves and odds and ends, he finds in it 735,000 Pounds Sterling. It must be ill gotten and hence not accounted for. But then Mr. Nasty must have his briefcase and most definitely not happy about it. Bright thing to do would be to pack a case and his wife Jean (Indrani Krishnaier) and board the first flight to Barcelona to live happily ever after. NO, thank you, says Jean. She has invited their friends Vic (Karthik Srinivasan) and Betty (Ameera D'Costa) for dinner. Detective Davenport (Sourabh Ahuja) arrives because he suspects Perkins was soliciting men in the rest room of the pub. A sum of 35,000 pounds and then some more and a trip to Barcelona appease him and make him see otherwise. Enter Detective Slater (Nilu) to tell Jean that her husband's body has been fished out of the Thames and here is his briefcase. While an irate cab driver (Aditya Nag) pops in and out insisting on joining the Barcelona bound team, in bursts Mr. Big (Ejji) himself muttering ``brefcuss... Mujhe paisa chahiye... "

"Funny Money" ... sophisticated slapstick from Ray Cooney — Pics. by S. R. Raghunathan

MTC Productions' version, designed and directed by Mithran Devanesen, was a brilliant exercise in insanity. There was movement, many entrances and departures and more names used than one can remember. The play was perfectly cast and if one can overlook the blanket, which stayed centre stage, it was Ramakrishna who stole the show. Indrani in her inebriation perhaps had the most difficult role to play. She rose to the occasion handsomely. Both the detectives, well played and dressed alike, were an interesting study in contrast. Mr. Nasty, bleeding and screaming in Hindustani, was a brief but loud and powerful entry. Karthik and Ameera in addition to turning in good performances supported the play with well-timed moves, falling over furniture, diving under the blanket, or passing the ``brefcuss" around. Comedy has always been Devanesen's forte and with ``Funny Money," he gave the audience their money's worth. The production was well designed, deftly choreographed and thoroughly rehearsed. His signature umbrella made its comeback, this time very still, under a hanging coat. This time round he went to town wielding a blanket! His sets were a pleasure to study. The usual box sets of a farce, with its many doors, turned into a split-level interior with flats tapering into the audience, blurring the divide a proscenium can create. At the same time it blended into the theatre. Having created the space, the direction teased the audience by not using the apron area at all! Again the sets were a blend of the real and the fantastic. It made use of every imaginable colour; every door was of a different shade. There were parrot-green tables and orange foyers, borders of different hues on fruity lemon walls. As if to highlight this was flat lighting (except for some top lighting with the sole purpose of `shining' the actors' heads!). Notifying the spirit, the performance began with no music, no preamble, by just simply startling the audience into surprise.

Those who waited for the customary gimmicks from Devanesen were not disappointed. Two wall mounted crystal vases holding gladioli and a pendulum clock were shot to tinkling crashes with a very realistic plastic gun (no doubt from Moore Market)!

The theatre, which was almost full the first day, burst at the seams the second night. And there are so many more in the city who never got to see the show. ``Funny Money" is the kind of play that should not be allowed to close down. It should run for weeks and then tour the metros. Every once in a while we need to unburden with a couple of hours of clean, silly fun.

Perfect casting enhanced the impact ...

The production, which ran successful nights in Coimbatore is scheduled to tour Sri Lanka and Bangalore. Somewhere in between it would be nice if it reopens in Chennai.

``Funny Money," sponsored by Hyundai, HSBC and Club Mahindra, raised funds for The Anjar Project, which Devanesen set up in Chennai in memory of the 362 school children who lost their lives in the village of Anjar during the Gujarat earthquake.

The project now has 2,400 children who need to be fed, clothed, educated and given access to medical care and happiness. ``Funny Money" can answer some of those needs.

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