Writer: Henry Fielding
Adapted by: Ross Ericson
Director: Edward Kingham
Reviewer: Carmel Doohan
The Public Reviews Rating:
In this eighteenth century romp of bawdy puns and innuendo, an illegitimate boy fights to marry his true love. While the humour was completely unsophisticated, the handling was anything but; I was shocked and delighted to see how many times this cast succeeded in getting real laughter from the word muff, making me think that this might be a new way of measuring the worth of a piece of theatre.
Plot tangles and loose women- I’m sorry- loose ends, all converge in a consistently pleasurable way. The small venue allows for an intimate pantomime, with audience laughter and gentle participation encouraged. This play is like the person whose end of the table you always endeavor to sit at; correctly reading its audiences’ expectation at every turn, it stretches jokes and toys with patience in order to wring all possible amusement from the conversation. I was left feeling strangely grateful.
Based on Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, Tom Jones earns its laughs not only from exposed bottoms but also ideas of hypocrisy, morality, class. The play opens with the narrator promising us a varied meal and it delivers on this promise; the heroine reading Voltaire manages to sit happily with her suitor slipping on a book and falling flat on his face. The narrators framing, like that of someone saying ‘So, two nuns walked into a bar…’ allows the audience to step out of themselves and join him in the world of his joke.
Each actor plays at least two characters but the acting is so good this often goes unnoticed. Kate Mounce, as an elderly spinster, a libertine and lady of ill repute is wonderfully funny as is Ben Bellamy playing a range of camp and hilarious characters. This is a cast who know how to get the most from a script and with writer Ross Ericson also acting, there is a satisfying feeling that much of the comedy has been developed collaboratively in rehearsals.
The cast are clearly enjoying themselves and a heady sense that the show must go on prevails throughout. When a door falls off its hinges, Bellamy improvises asking if he can help the lady “with a little light carpentry” which gets a loud round of applause- the riff is picked up and carried smoothly while smiles twitch at the actor’s lips. The narrator has a brilliant scene where he is drunk and as the play progresses he fluffs a fair few of his lines. When he continues to do this while playing other characters I wonder if perhaps he has been doing a little too much method acting but this in no way seems to matter. The audience is kept firmly onside throughout and all slips are handled with style.
This is in essence an old fashioned yarn full of bad jokes. It could have been awful, but the quality of the adaptation and the wit of the cast ensure that instead it makes for a thoroughly entertaining evening. Exactly as promised, a delicious and varied meal is enjoyed by all and at the gloriously predictable ending I am sorry to see the cast go, wishing I could follow them to their dressing room where I am sure the fun will continue.