Dandy Dick (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, July 7)

Dandy Dick - Sir Arthur Wing Pinero - Ambassadors Theatre Group
Dandy Dick - Sir Arthur Wing Pinero - Ambassadors Theatre Group

When the newly-formed Theatre Royal Brighton Productions company announced its first offering would be the oft-neglected 1887 racing farce ‘Dandy Dick it’s a sure bet’ many wondered if it would be able to stay the distance.

But any tipster who rated this unfancied will be declaring this dark horse a winner from the off, thanks to a sparkling cast and delightful direction which ensure this classic is a thing of laughs, joy and beauty.

Originally written in Brighton, the period piece about a Victorian clergyman who preaches regularly against the vices of gambling and horse racing only to find himself having to risk all at the races - with much mayhem along the way - is a gem that deserves to play to packed houses on its eight-week national tour and transfer to the West End.

The fact is that it could have been a creaky disaster and dismissed as an also-ran almost as soon as it left the stable. In the more than capable hands of director Christopher Luscombe, who always discovers luscious treats in what he tackles, the farce is fresh and frothy and it would be a sourpuss indeed who didn’t warm to the play and be cheered to the heart.

While very much of its age, there is a charming timeless quality to the play, and anything which might have dared to clank is treated with a light-hearted indifference.

It helps that the cast is so uniformly well-chosen that each member of the company deserved the generous applause and cheers at the curtain call.

Nicholas Le Prevost plays the sanctimonious Dean of St Marvells as though the role had been written for him - a born again ex-gambler tempted into placing a bet on his sister’s racehorse in order to raise money for the church spire. As ever, he finds every ounce of humour and pathos in the character, wringing from it a sympathetic and hilarious performance.

He is beautifully matched by Patricia Hodge as his fast-talking, tearaway sister, Georgiana, a true daisy of the turf, more concerned about her reputation among the racing fraternity than in wider society.

Five star performances also from Michael Cochrane as Sir Tristram, Florence Andrews and Jennifer Rhodes as the Dean’s headstrong daughters, Charles De Bromhead (also displaying real vocal and musical talent) and Peter Sandys-Clarke as their suitors, John Arthur as cynical butler Blore, Matt Weyland as the local policeman, and Rachel Lumberg - who would have been scene-stealing as Hannah had it not been for the strength of the entire cast.

This inaugural production for Theatre Royal Brighton Productions is bound for the winners circle and is a worthy and distinguished opener that holds promise for future productions from the same stable.

David Guest