The Duck House draws its inspiration from a current political issue – the MPs' expenses scandal – but it's not a bit political really. It only comes into its own when it abandons all attempt at satire and concentrates on smearing cream cake over three piece suits and detrousering dignified men.
Fortunately it moves into this terrain quite quickly, but you do have to sit through an excruciating few minutes at the beginning when it runs away with ideas above its station. Set in the dying days of Gordon Brown's government, it offers topical jokes at the level of: "That Chris Huhne. Gave me a lift in his car once. Drives like a lunatic." The night I was there, the ultra-polite audience even laughed at that line, though not very loudly and you could see it cost them an effort. They even laughed when the MP at the centre of the action, played by Ben Miller, said: "Yup. More freebies. And more expenses." Miller delivered it nicely. But there's nothing an actor can do with it. It isn't funny. At all.
But trying to disguise the fittings in your house from an important visitor, having your cast rush in and out hiding things and draping themselves over a massage chair the visitor mustn't recognise for what it is – now, that's the stuff of old-fashioned farce, and with a bit of goodwill you can laugh out loud and enjoy your evening. The excuse can be anything – in this case it happens to be an MP with an expenses problem. The action is all that matters, and the farce is carried off by an accomplished cast with pace, wit and energy.
The right comparison is with the old Whitehall farces, and it stands up to them. The trouserless MP is played by Simon Shepherd, and very funny he is too. (I won't tell you what he's wearing instead of trousers because I won't want to spoil the joke). He's not quite as funny as a trouserless Brian Rix used to be – somehow Brian Rix had a way of making trouserlessness funnier than anyone else in the world – but he's good.
A strong cast also offers Nancy Carroll as the MP's sophisticated wife, James Musgrave as his feckless son, Diana Vickers as the son's fiancée (who turns out to be – but no: those familiar with farce will have guessed already, and those unfamiliar with it will just have to wait); and Debbie Chazen as an entirely unbelievable Russian au pair who thinks the government is soft on immigrants (that's the best political joke of the evening).
Terry Johnson directs, and the writers – whose names do not appear on the show's advertising – are a couple of TV sketch writers, Colin Swash and Dan Patterson. Go along and enjoy yourself, but don't expect to come away informed or enlightened.