Photos: Piers Foley for Target Live
Nearing the end of its UK tour, the brilliantly witty comedy, What’s in a Name?, first performed in the UK two years ago by Birmingham Rep, is currently entertaining packed audiences at Richmond Theatre before playing its final week in Southampton next week.
Translated and adapted by Jeremy Sams from Matthew Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière’s original multi-award-winning play Le Prènom, the result – also directed by Sams – is a sharply comic comedy of manners featuring a top-drawer cast in full naturalistic mode. I’ll be very surprised if a West End transfer is not announced on the back of such a well-received tour.
The French certainly know how to write such wonderfully awkward social situations, as has already been proved beyond all doubt with Yasmina Reza’s ‘Art’ and Life X 3. As with the latter title, What’s in a Name? also features a very middle class set-up where the children are in bed and the adults (five in all) convene; in this instance for a dinner party.
Elizabeth (Laura Patch) and Peter (Bo Poraj) are hosting Elizabeth’s best friend of thirty years, the trombone-playing BBC orchestra musician, Carl (Alex Gaumond), plus her wealthy brother, Vincent (Joe Thomas) and his pregnant wife, Anna (Summer Strallen) at their trendy home in Peckham, London. During the evening, and before the arrival of Anna – who is running late, the egotistical and somewhat juvenile Vincent decides to tell everyone that he has decided to name their unborn son ‘Adolphe’ (after the classic French novel by Benjamin Constant rather than ‘Adolf’ the tyrannical leader of the Third Reich). With both spellings orally indistinguishable, all hell breaks loose when Vincent is set upon by the other three who proceed to tell him how unacceptable such a name would be.
With Elizabeth and Peter having named their own two children ‘Gooseberry’ and ‘Apollinaire’, in true Gwyneth Paltrow style, there is plenty of room for the wise-cracking Vincent to prolong his stunt. However, when Anna eventually arrives enough is enough but, by then, it’s all gone too far and further life-changing secrets come tumbling out of the closet – all in hilarious style.
As Vincent, Joe Thomas appears entirely comfortable onstage as opposed to his usual place in front of the cameras and, I’m sure, must be reveling in such a gorgeously sarcastic and confident role. He even gets to speak directly to the audience as the characters are all introduced at the start. Not surprisingly his comic-timing is spot-on but all the while naturalistic. In fact it’s the naturalism across the entire cast which produces much of the comedy in what is, essentially, a complately ensemble piece.
Sams has done a slick job, aided by Francis O’Connor’s angled modern design. I love the wall of books, completely fitting in the home of two teachers. Strallen’s late arrival adds an element of glamour to the proceedings; heavily pregnant but still wearing figure-hugging leather trousers, the musical theatre star (and ex-Sardines cover star) is certainly making a massive impact in her theatrical move into straight acting. As Vincent’s wife, she does a lovely job of letting him know how unimpressed she is with his childish behaviour. If looks could kill!
I daren't reveal any more of the plot for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say, from start to finish, this winning formula produces a gloriously rich evening of theatre; one in which you’ll not be able to keep a straight face - or ignore the shadows of people we all know.
What’s in a Name? is at Richmond Theatre until Saturday, 16th November.
More at: www.atgtickets.com/shows/whats-in-a-name/richmond-theatre