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Posts Tagged ‘Alice Power’

This is a real love or hate show, though based on the audience reaction last night there’ll be a lot more in the former category. Farce has become somewhat unfashionable (notwithstanding the subversions of the form in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and Mischief Theatre’s ‘goes wrong’ series) and I’m not sure the West End has seen a farce as frenetic as this for a very long time, if ever. After some initial misgivings, I succumbed to it’s profound silliness but consummate skill.

An assassin and a press photographer, unknown to each other, have adjoining rooms on the sixth floor of a hotel overlooking a court building where a well-known gangster is appearing. The assassin just wants to get the job done and get out of there. The photographer is spiralling into depression following his wife’s departure to live with her psychiatrist. Their situations become as linked as the rooms, as the hotel porter, a policeman, the wife and her psychiatrist get involved in the events unfolding, until the tables are turned.

Francis Veber’s play, adapted by director Sean Foley, is extraordinarily physical, exhausting to watch let alone play, and Foley’s production is very slick. Kenneth Branagh proved his comic timing credentials in Harlequinade earlier in this season, now he proves a master of physical comedy too. We’ve seen Rob Brydon play the hapless Welshman before, but here he adds physical comedy to great effect. Mark Hadfield has a great track record in comedy and here, without the physical demands of the others, he relies on body language, facial expressions and the odd movement to bring the house down. Alex Macqueen, Claudie Blakley and Marcus Fraser provide fine support. Alice Power’s excellent set also performs, as sets often do in farce.

Don’t go expecting culture, but do go prepared for and open to a thoroughly daft but thoroughly skilful example of a once popular but now endangered theatrical genre.

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This is ‘edited’ rather than ‘adapted’ from Thomas Middleton’s 410-year-old original. It has been relocated to 1950’s Soho, though in a clever twist the party scene is a Jacobean masked ball. Given that he has changed dialogue and character names and relationships (Sir Bounteous ‘Progress’ becomes ‘Peersucker’, his grandson is now his nephew), I think ‘edited’ should be ‘freely adapted’, though I’m not complaining as it’s rather fun (though slow to take off).

The nephew can’t wait for his inheritance so he steals from his uncle, more than material things in the end as he bags his mistress, prostitute Miss Truely Kidman, who also happens to be helping Penitent Brothel (no name change there!) steal Mrs Littledick (character formerly known as Harebrain) from her husband. This is all surrounded by prostitution, drinking and everything else you might expect in 50’s Soho, with the addition of a terrific jazz band with stunning vocals from Linda John Pierre.

It’s in director / ‘editor’ Sean Foley’s trademark OTT style which was pushed a little too close to Carry On Soho for me. The second half has more pace than the first, which is when the performers come into their own with 13 of them playing another 20 or so roles. Alice Power’s set quickly morphs from the streets to the homes and the superb music anchors it in both place and time. The cast’s infectious sense of fun ensures you have a good time at what must be one of the earliest farces?

This is accessible, quality touring fare and it’s good to see the RSC and ETT combining forces to take it around the UK.

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