Writer: Alexandr Ostrovsky, adapted by Rodney Ackland
Director: Paul Hunter
Reviewer: Andy Mellor
There’s the definite wind of change in the air in the St Anne’s Square venue at the moment. The prominence of Sarah Frankcom in the building, along with the departure of Braham Murray, has seen a feeling of renewed energy and vigour; first-time directors, new designers, more ambitious range and scope, and this, a collaboration with the fantastic Told By An Idiot. Paul Hunter’s physical comedy troupe is the very best example of a madcap fusion of Commedia Dell’arte, zany clowning, and an embracing of the best conventions of farce. This fizzy production is a delight, a real Summer treat.
The plot’s a nonsense, really, but here goes. The socially ambitious Gloumov (Dyfan Dwyfor) and his recently widowed Mother are desperate to propel him into the elite of Moscow society. He craftily makes contact with influential distant relatives in order to be set up with a wealthy bride and manoeuvres himself into polite society by charming his way into his Aunt Kleopatra’s (Hayley Carmichael) affections, through possibly the most entertaining scene, and by the use of a hilarious motorised wheelchair bound ‘psychic’ to convince his future bride’s dour guardian that he is the man for her.
It’s a really well paced two-and-a-half hours, which mostly flies by, despite the slight drag of the early scenes, which unroll the obligatory exposition. These certainly aren’t the highlight of the night. Laura Hopkins’ chintzy design evokes a cocktail party at Peter Sellers’ house in the late 60s; all mirrored, descending capsules, bearskin rugs and naffness. Similarly, Philip Gladwell’s lighting is minimal, but has some ingenious inventive touches that really lift the piece. Paul Hunter’s staging is fantastically polished. Gloumov’s entrance as the prodigal son, complete with a Jesus Christ Superstar moment, and a running gag with the audience – crucially involved throughout – and a psychic uses the space to imaginative effect.
The performances are top notch. If Dwyfor’s accent is a little patchy in places, it’s a difficult rôle, and for the most part he holds the centre of this exhausting spree. Lisa Hammond’s Maniefa was a real highlight, particularly her extravagantly dramatic entrances. Hayley Carmichael, the incomparable veteran of so much of Told By An Idiot’s best work and one of its founders, steals the show here, as Kleopatra. Her physical vocabulary is so quietly assured, and her comic timing remains unparalleled. Her attempted suicide is one of the unlikely, hilarious highpoints of the evening.
Georgina Lamb’s choreography is breathless and gives a really slick pace to the evening, which feels like a brilliantly democratic, accessible romp for just about everyone you could think of. There’s enough here to pique the interest of a real theatre pseud, as well as keeping a crowd of ten year olds delighted. With such a varied clutch of reference points, Hunter’s production doffs its cap to all the right figures (Marx Brothers, Austin Powers, Basil Fawlty, Keystone Kops), while finding its very own je ne sais quoi. A treat, then, and a marvellous end to the season. See it.