Smelling a Rat is a black comedy drama from playwright and filmmaker Mike Leigh, which he memorably described as an ‘anti-farce’.
Rex Weasel, owner of the Vermination Pest Control Company, has returned home from holiday unexpectedly and without his wife. Hoping to lay low, his plans are rudely interrupted when one of his employees, Vic Maggot and his wife, Charmaine, drop in to check on the apartment. They’re not even supposed to be there as Vic is filling in for another of Rex’s employees. To complicate matters further, the Weasels’ estranged son, Rocky shows up with his girlfriend, Melanie-Jane. With various members of the cast constantly taking refuge in the Weasels’ large walk-in wardrobes, the play sets up the audience’s expectations for a knockabout farce but confounds them by focusing instead on the banality of everyday conversation. Similarly, Leigh avoids tying up the loose ends preferring to leave open-ended questions about the mystery of Rex’s missing wife and the truth behind the discord between him and his son.
Smelling a Rat was first performed at Hampstead Theatre in London in 1988 and starred one of Leigh’s regular collaborators, actor Timothy Spall in the role of Vic Maggot.