See How They Run is a classic English comedy by Philip King. Its title is a line from the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice. It is considered a farce for its tense comic situations and headlong humour, heavily playing on mistaken identity, doors, and vicars.
Early production history
King wrote the first act in 1942 under the title Moon Madness, with the final act completed in 1943. His play was first staged by Henry Kendall at the Peterborough Rep in 1944 prior to a British tour as an entertainment for the troops, under the auspices of ENSA1.
Henry Kendall's production, re-cast and restaged, was then presented by producer Jack de Leon at his Q Theatre, close to Kew Bridge, as Christmas entertainment opening on 21 December 1944. It then transferred — with one change of cast — to the Comedy Theatre, opening to rave reviews on 4th January 1945.
The cast included Joan Hickson as the maid Ida (an actress new to comedy who had been acting at the Q Theatre since 1942) and starred Beryl Mason and George Gee as Penelope and Clive2. It ran for 18 months at the Comedy, notching up 589 performances (source: Who's Who in the Theatre, 11th edition).
The West End opening night was not without its perils. Three 'doodle-bugs' (V-1 flying bombs) exploded nearby. No-one budged until after the play was over, but Gee complained at the cast party that all three went off just as he was speaking his funniest lines.3.
The play is set in 1943 in the living room of the Vicarage at the fictitious village of Merton-cum-Middlewick (merging various actual village names, such as Merton and Middlewick, both in Oxfordshire, along with the old British usage of 'cum', meaning 'alongside' in the middle of a village name, as in Chorlton-cum-Hardy).
The lead character is Penelope Toop, former actress and now wife of the local vicar, The Rev. Lionel Toop. The Toops employ Ida, a Cockney maid. Miss Skillon, a churchgoer of the parish and a scold, arrives on bicycle to gossip with the vicar and to complain about the latest 'outrages' that Penelope has caused. The vicar then leaves for the night, and an old friend of Penelope's, Lance-Corporal Clive Winton, stops by on a quick visit. In order to dodge army regulations, he changes from his uniform into Lionel's second-best suit, complete with a clerical 'dog-collar' in order to see a production of "Private Lives" (a Noël Coward play in which they had appeared together in their acting days), while pretending to be the visiting vicar Arthur Humphrey who is due to preach the Sunday sermon the next day.
Just before they set out, Penelope and Clive re-enact one of their scenes from "Private Lives" and manage to knock Miss Skillon (who has come back unannounced) unconscious. Miss Skillon, wrongly thinking she has seen Lionel fighting with Penelope, gets drunk on a bottle of cooking sherry and Ida hides her in the broom cupboard. Then Toop, arriving back, is taken prisoner by an escaping German prisoner-of-war from a nearby camp, who takes his clothes as a disguise. To add to the confusion, both the real Humphrey, as well as Penelope's uncle, The Bishop of Lax, unexpectedly show up early. Chaos quickly ensues, culminating in a cycle of running figures, most of them dressed as clergy, plus a well-trained dog.
The play was made into a film in 1955. Directed by Leslie Arliss and starred Ronald Shiner as the renamed Clive Winton, Greta Gynt as Penelope and Dora Bryan as Ida. Arliss and Philip King collaborated on the screenplay.
The first London revival was staged by Alexander Doré at the Vaudeville Theatre in July 1964, with a strong cast including the author Philip King in the role of The Bishop of Lax, but it ran for less than a month. More successfully, the play was revived by John David at the Greenwich Theatre on 30 November 1978, winning especially good reviews for Andrew Robertson portraying The Reverend Arthur Humphrey as a Robertson Hare lookalike, and played a busy Christmas and New Year season, closing in mid-January 1979.
A BBC 90-minute adaptation broadcast at Christmas 1984 starred Michael Denison, Liza Goddard and Maureen Lipman.
The play was also revived on stage at the Richmond Theatre, Surrey (28 February - 4 March 2006), and at the Duchess Theatre, London (26 June - 28 October 2006) following a short national tour. The production was directed by Douglas Hodge.
Hattie Morahan starred as Penelope Toop in the touring production, the part later being taken by Nancy Carroll for the West End, who played alongside her real-life husband Jo Stone-Fewings as Clive. The cast also included Nicholas Rowe as the Reverend Toop, Julie Legrand as Miss Skillon, Nicholas Blane as Humphrey, Natalie Grady as Ida, Adrian Fear as the PoW, and Chris MacDonnell as the Policeman.
For the Duchess Theatre run, the cast included Tim Pigott-Smith as The Bishop of Lax. The production received excellent notices. and .