Written by Will Evans and Valentine (Archibald Thomas Petchey) between 1914 and 1921 and first produced in 1922, Tons of Money has a place in theatre history for having launched the once-famous series of Aldwych farces.
Sixty-three years later Alan Ayckbourn made a new version of it for his Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, later taking it to the National Theatre during his two-year sabbatical there. Interestingly, Ayckbourn noted that it was unclear how much of the original text had survived the play being customised for the Aldwych stars Ralph Lynn and Tom Walls.
All of this suggests a comic treat, but the reality is a disappointment. Though too brief to seriously outstay its welcome, Tons of Money is slow to get going and only fitfully comes to life, most notably with the arrival of Eric Carte as the second of three claimants to an inheritance.
Aubrey and Louise are what the 1920s would have understood as a gay couple. Though they are over their heads in debt, Aubrey’s optimism is undiminished.
But when a lawyer reveals that they are about to inherit a vast fortune, the problem is how to avoid all of it being consumed by their creditors. Louise comes up with a plan for Aubrey to fake his death and reappear as a cousin from Mexico to claim the money.
Their plans quickly spin out of control as the butler Sprules arranges for his brother to impersonate the cousin. Inevitably the real cousin, assumed dead, is also soon on his way.
Caroline Langrishe gives a breezy performance as a woman who arranges her husband’s disappearance as casually as she might order lunch. Mark Curry also embraces Aubrey in his various guises with enthusiasm, and there are nice eccentric touches from Janet Henfrey as a stiff maiden aunt and Keith Clifford as a daffy gardener.
* Running time: Two hours. Until Saturday.