Reviewed – 3rd October
“a gloriously silly evening”
When all around is strife and uncertainty, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned plate of… farce. Thirty-seven years after its debut performance at the Lyric Hammersmith, Michael Frayn’s play of backstage antics bleeding into on stage catastrophe is as thigh-slappingly funny as ever.
For West End audiences used to the meta-theatricality of Mischief Theatre’s ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ will find themselves on familiar territory here – Mischief’s hugely successful show it essentially a full-length take on Frayn’s final act. What this production allows however is a look behind the scenes, seeing the love triangles, squabbles and gossip that take places in corners the audience normally cannot see. Act One introduces the array of wonderfully exuberant characters in rehearsal, Act Two takes us literally behind the scenes to show how love breaks this particularly touring company apart, and Act Three takes us further along the tour when the actor’s exasperation causes absolute chaos onstage.
The joy is seeing all the jokes set up in Act One come to fruition in Act Three. Jeremy Herrin’s production keeps the energy high and the pace quick. His ensemble leap to the challenge. Sarah Hadland is gossipy dame using balletic posture and glued on grins to see the show through. Richard Henders plays an excellent Frederick Fellowes, epitomising the actor seeking meaning for every move he makes. Simon Rouse plays a drunken octogenarian with aplomb and Lloyd Owen is a suitably sarcastic and exasperated director. Meera Syal, as Dotty Otley, lives up to her name, unable to remember when to bring sardines on and when to bring them off.
Max Jones’ set is nicely modern, and the costumes fit into the present day well. This is pastiche of a genre that will always please. The audience tonight was guffawing in the stalls. My only reservation is in the casting – it could have been a little more inventive. That aside, this is a gloriously silly evening of comedy that will leave anyone with sore cheeks and good spirits. Fans of Mischief Theatre would be advised to check this out, along with anyone else interested in the theatricality of theatre and what madcap relationships go on behind the scenes. It might leave you wondering why anyone would get involved in the game of theatre. But it’s the precariousness of live theatre itself that will always be the most entertaining thing on stage.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Helen Maybanks
Garrick Theatre until 4th January
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 13th March 2019
“Every element of Admissions is running very smoothly, but it’s difficult not to feel like the whole thing is skirting around some realer issue”
The recent release of blockbuster superhero film Captain Marvel has seen a staggering spectrum of critiques crop up: some glowing, some vitriolic, and some more tepid. One of the more interesting arguments from the latter of those is that the film is riddled with ‘performative progressivism’ – that it heralds itself as part of a revolution in the representation of women heroes in Hollywood as though Marvel itself didn’t necessitate it with its previous twenty male-centric films. Joshua Harmon’s Admissions tries to dissect the role of performative progressivism in education – primarily university admissions – but the execution of the story raises questions as to whether the play falls victim to the very same thing.
Admissions opens with Sherri Rosen-Mason (Alex Kingston), an admissions officer at a prestigious school, chastising Roberta (Margot Leicester) for not taking diverse enough photos for their prospectus, as she’s hoping to raise the percentage of minority students to 20%. The sincerity of this belief is challenged, however, when her son Charlie (Ben Edelman) is deferred from Yale while his black friend Perry gets accepted despite them being otherwise nearly identical candidates, and so she and her husband Bill (Andrew Woodall) try to pull strings and exercise their privilege to secure a place for their son, and we see the perceived progressivism of Sherri is thrown firmly into doubt as soon as it affects someone related to her.
Harmon’s writing is explosive and satirical; Charlie’s first scene contains a venomous and entitled rant that sees him assert the notion that women and black students are only succeeding because of a need to fill quotas and ends with making a Nazi salute – it just about manages to toe the line between comedic and discomforting, despite a slightly overly-shouty performance from Edelman. Elsewhere, Sherri does her best to convince Roberta that she’s not discriminating against white people with her prospectus demands because some of her best friends are white. The performances all serve this excellently – Kingston’s stamina is exceptional, and Woodall brings a particularly stellar gravitas to his role, while Leicester wrings humour and pathos in equal measure for a beautifully measured performance.
Daniel Aukin ensures a slick pace with deft direction and scene changes that blend into each other, while Paul Wills’ set perfectly depicts the home of a white middle class family. Every element of Admissions is running very smoothly, but it’s difficult not to feel like the whole thing is skirting around some realer issue; it feels like the play at its heart is begging to critique the exclusive and privilege-ridden club that Ivy League universities (or the likes of Oxford and Cambridge here in the UK) have bred, and the opportunities that are only afforded to their graduates as a result. It comes across as hugely performative for the characters to preach the importance of making space at the table for a whole spectrum of people and identities while the play contains an all-white cast. Harmon even suggests in the programme that Admissions is a play about whiteness, but I have to wonder – do we need one?
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Johan Persson
Trafalgar Studios until 25th May
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: