What’s in a Name?
Theatre Royal Windsor
Reviewed – 4th November 2019
“very funny with a great cast served up in a pleasing package”
What’s in a Name? In this case it’s the motor for an evening of smart, snappy comedy about a dinner party that spirals hopelessly out of control when a daft joke about a baby’s name leads to some devastating family revelations.
With over 100 productions since 2010 in 22 languages and 30+ countries, this play by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière is big box office, with a string of awards to its credit. It’s also a successful film, under its French title Le Prénom. The five characters – a brother and sister, their partners and one secretive childhood friend – all get big moments in this tight ensemble piece that’s full of witty one-liners.
Joe Thomas (best known as Simon in E4’s The Inbetweeners) is the first on stage with a rapid commentary on the action that’s about to unfold. He gives a high energy performance as Vincent, a cocky, Daily Mail reading wide-boy who’s made a packet out of property. He’s a perfect foil for his earnest professorial brother-in-law (RADA-trained Bo Poraj, Mike in Miranda). Laura Patch turns things up a notch when she gets her own back on the sparring males, who are too busy arguing to pay attention to her struggles with the tagine. Alex Gaumond is a quiet trombonist who gets to spring the biggest surprise, to the consternation of the rest of the cast including the stylishly pregnant Summer Strallen as Vincent’s wife.
The home truths served up at this spicy dinner party gone wrong kept the audience amused last night, but was there any meat on the elegant bones? The production premiered at the Birmingham Rep in 2017 and is here directed, with a new cast, by its translator, Jeremy Sams. He’s anglicised a particularly Parisian text (everyone here knows Benjamin Constant’s 1815 novel Adolphe) that’s peppered with just the kind of philosophical wordplay that French intellectuals love. But he’s set it not in the 20th arrondissement but in a Peckham warehouse conversion. There’s more swearing and class differentiation than you’d expect among Parisian academics, and the play occupies a slightly uneasy space somewhere between Yasmina Reza’s Art and one of Alan Ayckbourn’s social satires.
What’s in a Name is very funny with a great cast served up in a pleasing package (a clever and satisfyingly detailed set by Francis O’Connor). But this light soufflé of a play ultimately left me wanting a bit more substance.
Reviewed by David Woodward
Photography by Piers Foley
What’s in a Name?
Theatre Royal Windsor until 9th November then UK tour continues
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 20th February 2019
“Guyler is most definitely a writing talent to be reckoned with”
Digging Deep is Amy Guyler’s four man play about suicide, which, shockingly, as the beer mats placed on our seats remind us, is the biggest killer of men under 45 in this country. The play centres on 22 year old Mossy and his group of mates. Mossy is done with life – he feels he’s flatlining already and he doesn’t see the point of carrying on – but he doesn’t want to leave his Mum with a costly funeral bill, so he enlists his mates to help him raise £10,000 before he ends it all. Before long, their local campaign goes viral and hits the headlines, the money is raised, and Mossy is faced with the reality of his situation.
Digging Deep is a well-paced, tightly written drama, with an expertly handled and unexpected last minute denouement. Guyler has a great ear, and for the most part the dialogue is eminently recognisable as the comfortable banter common to a group of lads who hang out together a lot. The gags are occasionally overplayed, and the comedic moments occasionally overwritten, but there are a lot of genuine laughs to be had, and Guyler is most definitely a writing talent to be reckoned with, particularly since she is also capable of moving people to tears; two men in the audience last night were completely overcome in the play’s final moments.
Credit must go too to Alistair Wilkinson’s sure-handed and creative direction, and to some terrific performances. Kyle Rowe, as Mossy, is magnetic on stage throughout, with tremendous physical and vocal presence. He is ably supported by Jonny Green – who gives a nuanced portrayal of the sensitive Matt – and Matthew Woodhead, entirely believable as Mossy’s oldest mate Kane. Josh Sinclair-Evans, as Jack, arguably has the most difficult task, and, although his performance makes more sense at the play’s close than it does during its unfolding, Jack’s characterisation still seems somewhat skin-deep in comparison with that of the other three. This is partly owing to the choice to give him a very obvious tic (he played nervously with the tie of his hoodie throughout) which emphasises his external behaviour over what he carries in his body.
The boys’ physicality plays a huge part in this piece; how they move, individually and collectively, tells us so much about who they are. There are some brilliantly directed set pieces – the sponsored onion-eating; the football match; the sky dive – but the subtle physical detail in each performance is almost more pleasing, defining, as it does, the boys so clearly one from the other. They scuff and lounge and strut around the stage, hands in pockets or down trousers, chests out or shoulders hunched, and paint a poignant potrait of the so-often-hidden struggles that so many young men face. Prepare to be moved.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Andrew James
Part of VAULT Festival 2019