by George and Weedon Grossmith adapted by Hugh Osborne.

Royal and Derngate (Royal auditorium) Guildhall Road NN1 To 19 March 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 15 March.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.

TICKETS: 01604 624811.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 March.

Inventive theatre of the heroically mundane.
It’s not easy to transfer the deadpan certainty of late-Victorian diarist Charles Pooter, with his suburb-governed mind, fictional creation of the Grossmith brothers, to the stage. But Hugh Osborne cunningly incorporates theatricality within the structure of his adaptation, as Charles brings three male friends to perform his diaries with him in a theatre whose management is clearly more interested in promoting their forthcoming attraction.

There’s delightful interplay between the supposedly amateurish staging and the professional swiftness and concentration of director Gary Sefton and his cast. They know, thankfully, that uttermost seriousness is the way to humour. Any betrayal that someone up there thinks things might be funny would kill hilarity in the auditorium.

Designer Rhys Jarman emphasises the Pooters’ mundane life by placing their commonplace appurtenances amid the heroic two-dimensional classical columns of the theatre’s scenic stock. Then, in an orchestration of swishing curtains, revelations, rapid scene-shifting – and some nifty moves by actors around the stage – a stream of comic images flows past.

The all-male cast, eked-out by occasional mop-headed puppets, gives another aspect of Pooter’s hopelessness, offset by the skilled playing of Mrs Pooter and her friend Mrs James of Sutton by hefty, bearded Peter Forbes and William Oxborrow. Mrs James and Mr Pooter engage whenever they meet in a glacial exchange of polite formalities, speaking the same words simultaneously to express the uncongenial company they afford each other.

Pooter responds with gratified concern when his employer’s voice booms from the sky, his existence justified by praise from above. Robert Daws’ stolidity as Pooter is spot-on, and impeccably maintained. Alongside Forbes and Oxborrow (also an indefatiguable pianist), Steven Blakeley is contrastingly wiry and rapid-moving as Pooter’s opportunistic son, agile and flighty of mind, transforming into sudden stillness as an oval-framed portrait of himself.

Several visually impressive moments – carol singers in the snow, and the final touching assemblage of the Pooter’s furniture around the stage – mark that there’s appreciation of Pooter’s qualities as well as his limitations. Though the cameo-nature of the material is hard to sustain over two hours, the level of invention and performance here is exceptional.

Pooter: Robert Daws.
Birks Spooner: Steven Blakeley.
Darwitts: Peter Forbes.
Hillbutter: William Oxborrow.

Director: Gary Sefton.
Designer: Rhys Jarman.
Lighting: Richard Godin.
Sound: Davis Middleton.
Composer/Musical Director: William Oxborrow.
Choreographer: Alexandra Worrall.
Dialect coach: Mary Howland.

2011-03-09 10:52:16

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