Castle Hill Players: Funny Money - Review by Daniel Conway
Updated: Apr 2
If you have ever seen a show at the Pavilion Theatre, you will understand that there is an undeniable charm to the place. The walls are plastered, every inch covered with posters and photos of productions gone by. A tapestry of culture, of art, and of community. You get the sense that this space has seen a lot of theatre come and go on the treads of the floor boards, and each one has left an indelible mark. That mark is visible in the quality and professionalism present in the work of The Castle Hill Players. This production of Funny Money is no different. It is slick, quick, and delightful.
Julian Floriano and his team have done an amazing job at creating a piece of work that is so impressive that I was honestly hooked just by drawing back the curtain. The set. A full sentence in and of itself, so impressive, so detailed—better than some professional productions I have seen. Julian Badman's design adds so much depth and dimension to the stage that it gives the cast the room, literally, to play. Everything is so well placed that if I were told that it was purchased and repurposed from a sitcom, I would believe it. There is so much character and thought put into the space that when the cast starts doing their thing, the world is already built and we, the audience, are truly primed for the action.
This production was a true ensemble effort. Every person played their role perfectly. I am going to say this now because I could say the same thing about each performer: their physicality on stage was perfect. Each person lived in the moment, made big choices, and created a fully fleshed-out character that interacted with the environment and each other perfectly. This is surely a beautiful mix of Floriano's direction and the cast's ability, but the commitment to farce is outstanding. If you had paid close attention on Opening Night, you would have seen two small slip-ups in lines. Just two that I noticed. I draw attention to this not to say anything negative, quite the contrary. This play is so fast with the dialogue, such a frenetic pace that everything needs to go just right, and to think that in all of this I could only notice two very minor mistakes, this cast is impressive. There is something magical on stage when an ensemble gels so completely that every beat is hit and every interaction feels lived in. This is good theatre, and these are good actors.
Ben Freeman, as Henry had me in stitches with his fast talking and quick thinking. A true anchor performance, he set the tone and the pace of the action pretty early on and never took his foot off the gas. Vanessa Henderson's Jean slowly unravelled on stage in the greatest way possible. Her slow descent into despair and drunkenness was a joy to watch. Leigh Scanlon and Stephen Snars are wonderful as Betty and Vic, getting pulled into the action gleefully or reluctantly. They have such good chemistry with everyone on stage and are both a joy to watch. Ben Wheeler does a great job at being the bent detective, adding layers of energy and antagonism to the scene that was already bursting at the seams. Deb Lewis, as Billie, had my favourite costume of the night, fantastic line delivery, and comic timing. Daisy Alexis plays the comic straight man so well. A tough gig because, in all of the crazy and zany antics, her performance, while still full of laughs, is so important to the flow and pace of the narrative. A notable and scene stealing appearance by Constance Halstead rounds out the ensemble perfectly.
In just under two hours with an intermission, this show is a good night out. The only criticism I have is not about the production or the performers, but about the script itself. As with any work of comedy, politics change and humour changes with it, and not everything ages as well. But more of the humour lands than not, and that is a testament to the cast, who garnered so much laughter that I overheard someone say they felt like "they were sitting in the audience for a sitcom and someone piped in a laugh track, people were laughing that much".
Mark my words: 2023 will go down as one of the strongest years for Castle Hill Players. If you are in any doubt about this, first read the review from their season-opening production of A Few Good Men, then get yourself a ticket to see Funny Money. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and left the Pavilion Theatre in awe of just how good this company and this production are. 4.5 people under a blanket out of 5
Photos courtesy of Chris Lundie