The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 14th June, 2017
Phil Porter’s new play ‘borrows’ heavily (to put it mildly!) from the works of Roman comic genius Plautus – Porter is by no means the first to do so; everyone from Shakespeare to Frankie Howerd has been influenced by Plautus’s outlandish plots and larger-than-life character types.
Colin Richmond’s set is a painted representation of two Roman houses – the artificiality is undisguised, as a prompt to tell us we are not in the real world. In this world, characters are broadly drawn, driven by particular foibles and appetites. First among them is General Braggadocio (Felix Hayes), a swaggering braggart, a vain, posturing despot – clearly ripe for duping. Hayes chews his lines with bombast and relish in a massively enjoyable performance. He quotes and paraphrases Donald Trump – which should tell you all you need to know about what kind of dreadful, narcissistic idiot he is.
Running rings around him is Dexter, the cunning, conniving slave. This is the Frankie Howerd role, played here by Sophia Nomvete, a hugely likable presence full of charm and warmth. Her schemes are ludicrous but we take delight in watching them work out, as Dexter copes with each new obstacle that is thrown in her path.
Aiding and abetting (but mostly hampering and hindering) are fellow slaves, Feclus (a hilarious and tightly wound Steven Kynman) whose desperation and frustration are a lot of fun, and Omnivorous (Byron Mondahl) who, as his name gives away, eats a lot but is at his comic best when he is pissed off his face.
Geoffrey Lumb’s handsome but dim young lover, Valentin, is a wide-eyed twit, while his other half, the general’s concubine Voluptua gives the performance of the night. Ellie Beaven is the cream of this very rich crop of comedic talent, flitting between characterisations with impeccable timing and nuance – and it’s not the kind of show where you expect much nuance!
There is superb support from Nicholas Day as game old codger Philoproximus and a star turn from Allo Allo’s Kim Hartman as raddled old prostitute, Climax, hurling herself into Dexter’s schemes with energy and style. Jon Trenchard reinforces the silliness of the whole enterprise, scampering around as Braggadocio’s monkey Terence (named for the other famous Roman playwright, I’ll wager).
Director Janice Honeyman doesn’t miss a trick to keep the laughs coming thick and fast, and much fun is had with some well-placed anachronisms. Roman comedy gives us the opportunity to mock those who would oppress us, while championing the little guy and revelling in the indomitable human qualities of ingenuity and wit. It’s not the plots we come for but the playing. And this production delivers some exquisitely funny playing indeed.
Up Stratford! Felix Hayes and Sophia Nomvete (Photo: Pete Le May)
Leave a comment | tags: Byron Mondahl, Colin Richmond, Ellie Beaven, Felix Hayes, frankie Howerd, Geoffrey Lumb, Janice Honeyman, Jon Trenchard, Kim Hartman, Nicholas Day, Phil Porter, Plautus, review, RSC, Sophia Nomvete, Steven Kynman, Stratford upon Avon, The Swan Theatre, Vice Versa | posted in Theatre Review, Uncategorized
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 26th February, 2014
I don’t mind people ‘messing about’ with Shakespeare, being irreverent and what-have-you. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this type of thing. Witness the consistently hilarious output of Oddsocks, for example. Here, Filter Theatre condense Shakespeare’s rom-com into 90 minutes, embellishing it with gags visual and audible and, for the most part, it’s very entertaining.
The bare stage has the air of a rehearsal space. Actors and musicians in everyday clothes mill around until the show begins. A man in white shirt and trainers and jeans makes faltering attempts to utter the play’s famous opening line – and we’re off. It’s like a beat poetry session in Duke Orsino’s court. Jonathan Broadbent doubles as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, an energetic, acrobatic characterisation, where switches from one role to the other are achieved entirely by a change of stance.
Sarah Belcher is Viola, borrowing a hat and coat from audience members to effect her disguise as a boy. She gets Viola’s concealed passion across very well, but playing her own twin brother makes it difficult to pull off the siblings’ eventual reunion. Liz Fitzgibbon is both deadpan and sensual as Olivia but her servant Malvolio (Fergus O’Donnell) is truly startling, stripping down to yellow socks and Rocky Horror golden trunks and strutting around like a Rolling Stones tribute. Natasha Broomfield is a fun-loving Maria (and a cocky Feste) and Geoffrey Lumb’s Toby Belch is the most immersed in his role, the only one in period costume and affecting to be drunk all the time.
Where it works best is when the group’s ideas complement the action. The jazz music lends an improvised air to the proceedings. You feel anything could happen. Unfortunately, it does. There are some deliciously funny moments when Shakespeare and Filter are working in tandem. At other times, the play is overwhelmed and brought to a standstill, when Filter’s anarchic ideas, sometimes self-indulgent, go on (and on) for too long. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew’s late-night carousing is one example, culminating with half the audience joining them on-stage for a conga while the other half pass around boxes of pizza. There then follows an inevitable lull as everyone troops back to their seats. At moments like this, I just wanted them to get on with it.
My companion, unfamiliar with the play, found it difficult to follow the plot and I imagine he wasn’t the only one. It’s as though the choice of material is irrelevant and the company are going to do what they like with it anyway. With a bit of editing, and directors Oliver Dimsdale and Ferdy Roberts reining it in a little, Filter’s Twelfth Night could be consistently hilarious and satisfying. Let Shakespeare have his head and dress him up in all the comic invention you can muster and you can’t go wrong.
Leave a comment | tags: Ferdy Roberts, Fergus O'Donnell, Filter Theatre, Geoffrey Lumb, Jonathan Broadbent, Liz Fitzgibbon, Natasha Bloomfield, Oliver Dimsdale, review, Sarah Belcher, theatre review, Twelfth Night, Warwick Arts Centre, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review