A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM
book by Burt Shevelove & Larry Gelbart music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Queen’s Theatre Billet Lane RM11 1QT To 16 October 2010.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat 9, 14 Oct 2.30pm.
Audio-described/BSL Signed 9 Oct 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 01708 443333.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 September.
Lots that’s appealing; nothing appalling.
This was the musical where Stephen Sondheim spread his wings from being other people’s lyricists to write his own music. It’s a light piece, about nothing but the comic spirit, but there’s a particular joy about seeing a major young writer/composer flexing his technique with the rare brilliance he’d later apply to society, politics, myth and psychology.
So, tragedies tomorrow, but comedy tonight as the opening number, a late addition in 1962, asserts. Based on works by Roman comic playwright Plautus (ancient but cheeky with it), there’s plenty of action, and well-crafted humour from Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. They show Plautus as ancestor of vaudeville and burlesque. This is rough, raucous humour, its dregs drained in sixties and seventies sitcoms. Political correctness by Benny Hill, you might say. Being old or blind makes someone laughable. Women are termagant wives or dippy sex-objects.
But better writers have a way of avoiding the worst aspects of stereotyping. Shevelove and Gelbart do, and Sondheim lifts even the beautiful slave Philia’s uneducated mind (she’d clearly be absorbed by the pictures in celeb mags nowadays) with his unfolding melody.
Bob Carlton’s production revels in the vaudevillian energy. The opening number mounts excitingly, from slave Pseudolus struggling through the front curtain, to a brightly-lit stage and the emergence of instrument-toting performers. Designer Mark Walters combines the typical Plautus set of three houses – ground-plan for a quick entrance/exit farce – with near-toppling columns.
Carlton’s cast work, and play, hard, carrying musical instruments with them – or in one gag producing them from a chest, holding up a song to do so. James Earl Adair’s old Erronius, set to walk the seven hills of Rome seven times, and raising a laugh each occasion he completes a circuit, and Matthew Quinn’s camp beanpole of a trusty servant inveigled into machinations are among the strong ensemble.
In which no-one stand-out more than Julian Littman’s Pseudolus. Effortfully contriving the elopement that will also secure his freedom, he is forever pushed to think up new strategies, while engaging with the audience in a happy evening which leaves most of us only wanting more.
Erronius: James Earl Adair.
Domina/Courtesan: Lindsay Ashworth.
Courtesans: Christine Holman, Wendy Paver, Sarah Scowen.
Marcus Lycus: Simon Jessop.
Proteans: Tom Jude, Joe West.
Pseudolus: Julian Littman.
Philia: Natasha Moore.
Senex: Stuart Organ.
Hysterium: Matthew Quinn.
Hero: Oliver Seymour-Marsh.
Miles Gloriosus: Steve Simmonds.
Director: Bob Carlton.
Designer: Mark Walters.
Lighting: Chris Howcroft.
Sound: Rick Clarke.
Musical Director: Julian Littman.
Choreographer: Donna Berlin.
Costume: Rodney Ford.