Thursday 3rd August 2017 at Etcetera Theatre in Camden, London.
Falling Pennies Theatre Company’s Doomed Resistance is a new play and a farce set in Belgium in 1914. Directed by Rebecca Blake, this three hander delivers a manic, comic take on war and its tendency to make people do strange things….like pretending to be an entire army or trying to win the war through pure bravado and tragi-comic desperation. Simon Godfrey’s writing is sharp and buzzing with word play and ludicrous exchanges, as is the case in all good farces. There are echoes of Blackadder and Dad’s Army, with some well planted modern references to parallel the futility of war with the futility of facing forceful gas providers. The cast do justice to Godfrey’s script, but none more so than Matthew Warhurst, playing Schmidt.
Ryan Penny and Tea Poldervaart, playing the Commander and Ludendorff respectively, lead the way to the laughs with the first few scenes of two grown men scrambling to convince each other on the spot that they are at the helm of a terror-inducing army of men. Thinking on their feet, their attempts to hoodwink one another lead to many comical one liners and word play, with the reactions of the pair often being just as funny as the initial ridiculous ruse. Penny’s performance is exhausting to watch; his energy and quick delivery can’t be faulted (think Lee Evans in a comic play), yet at times so quick was he that I missed the punchline! His boyish characterisation often placed him as the toddler desperate to convince us that he did not indeed steal cookies from the jar, yet betrays himself through his inability to keep up with his own fibs. Poldervaart essentially plays the straight man to Penny’s outlandish pompous character – while Penny’s Commander is presented as an escaped clown with incredibly quick thinking, Ludendorff is a self-assured straight laced fellow with a stubborn hunger for victory but a foolish plan to get it. His frustrations with the ineffectual Schmidt are hilarious and the three bounce off each other brilliantly, keeping the laughs coming throughout.
For me though, it was Schmidt, played by Matthew Warhurst who stole the show. His Baldrick-esque character is softly spoken, riddled with self-doubt and is decidedly lacking in common sense. He does, however, have a passionate moral compass, although he isn’t always sure of the direction and his various realisations are played with endearing naïvety. He gets the most laughs by far, and rightly so as not only is Warhurst’s clumsy and clueless portrayal fantastic, but so is the writing for his character. Yes, the lines for the Commander and Ludendorff are funny and well landed, but the combination of the quality of writing, the visual gags and the hilarious delivery from Warhurst made the fool of a show the funniest character once more.
Doomed Resistance is a promising new play which celebrates the ridiculous and brings to life a somewhat paling genre with such great enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to be impressed. Perhaps what’s missing is the great physical comedy we’ve come to expect from a farce – there isn’t really any slapstick, meaning that the production rests entirely on the writing so this isn’t quite a thoroughbred farce, but it’s pretty close! Is it laugh-a-minute? Does every punchline land perfectly? No, but there’s certainly plenty of laughter, making Godfrey’s play a great contemporary take on a classic genre.
You can catch Doomed Resistance at Etcetera Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe until August 7th and you can get your tickets here.