by George S Kaufman & Moss Hart.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 14 January 2012.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 7 Jan 4pm.
BSL Signed 10 Jan.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 December.

…but you can have happy memories.
Cunningly, the Royal Exchange use this production’s title for a programme ad soliciting legacies. With equal cunning, and more immediate result, they have teamed-up with Paul Hunter of physical theatre company Told By An Idiot. Hunter brings several actors familiar with his company’s deadpan physical comedy, and while the result occasionally imposes on Kaufman and Hart’s well-honed 1930s comedy (occasions admittedly occasioning some of the evening’s biggest laughs) he creates an anarchic feel fitting this in-the-round stage and the authors’ comic spirit.

Front-rows are prime positions for audience involvement. At the Exchange, the front consists of banquettes – low in price as well as altitude. So it seems social justice they should be invited to the party, sharing the dancing, party-game and food.

Such celebration suits this theatre’s openness, and the gentle anarchy of the Vanderhof household, which has acquired several add-ons over the years. The Vanderhofs are no proto-hippies; they make money through their efforts. Their secret is not letting that get in the way of their lives.

If they’re an amiable variant on the self-obsessed Bliss family home in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever (an Exchange show in 2008), both families find their daughter looking towards normality. Sorel Bliss yearns for it, while Alice has caught the eye and heart of the boss’s son.

He’s intent on marrying her and brings his parents, a serious financier and a wife seriously repressed in her respectability, round unexpectedly. Things could hardly go more wrong when the lifestyles meet, though they do thanks to the tax office and police also arriving unannounced.

Hunter’s imprint runs riotously throughout, especially in self-conscious doubling – or trebling as Denton Chikura wears three hats at once. Martin Hyder unobtrusively mouths an offstage Vanderhof associate’s lines while playing the straitlaced Kirby. And as the splendidly-named Gay Wellington Golda Roshuevel laps up discovering the legs of her other character protruding from the furniture, following a cunning switch.

Meanwhile, Christopher Benjamin’s relaxed Vanderhof and Maggie O’Brien, pointedly comic as American bourgeois and émigré aristocrat turned wage-slave, show how much good actors can achieve even without the directorial spotlight lighting on them.

Martin Vanderhof: Christopher Benjamin.
Ed: Adam Burton.
Donald/Henderson/Three Men: Denton Chikura.
Penelope Sycamore: Joanne Howarth.
Mr De Pinna/Mr Kirby: Martin Hyder.
Mrs Kirby/Olga: Maggie O’Brien.
Paul Sycamore: Sam Parks.
Alice: Sarah Ridgeway.
Rheba/Gay Wellington: Golda Rosheuvel.
Essie: Sophie Russell.
Tony Kirby: Hugh Skinner.
Boris Kolenkhov: Miltos Yerolemou.

Director: Paul Hunter.
Designer: Laura Hopkins.
Lighting: Philip Gladwell.
Sound: Adrienne Quartly.
Dialects: Mark Langley.
Choreographer: Sian Williams.
Assistant director: Max Webster.

2011-12-30 14:50:25

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