Wednesday 9th October 2019 at The Grand Opera House, York.
Family and friends come together for an evening of food, chat and liquor…what could possibly go wrong? A surprising and thoroughly entertaining array of things as it happens. Matthieu Delaporte and Alexander De La Patellière’s hit comedy (translated and adapted by Jeremy Sams) takes the distinctly universal trope of fractious family relations and adds a bold dose of dark humour alongside the usual crisp underlying tensions to be found at such get togethers. It takes a minute to gather itself into something with substance, offering an unnecessary prologue of sorts where it might fare better just getting stuck in, but once the momentum hits the ascend button this becomes a sparky comedy landing laughs in all the right places.
Francis O’Connor’s set takes us into the heart of this stylish, contemporary home with a lived-in comfortability. It’s constructed as a full scale complete living room feeding into bedroom on the upper level and kitchen and patio area on the lower level. There’s subsequently no need for fussy scene or set changes, focusing all attention on the omni-shambolic evening taking place. As a space it’s both functional and visually apt as a backdrop to hilariously dangerous combinations of crossed wires, latent resentments and well kept secrets within the bubbles of family and friendship.
Our characters are very well written within their neat respective ‘types’ and the chemistry between them is top notch, with domestic ease and frictions taking shape as everything we know they should be. Elizabeth and Peter are hosting and Laura Patch and Bo Poraj create a perfect snapshot of the married-with-young-children lifestyle. Elizabeth potters in the kitchen, pacifies the guests and speaks at an appropriately optimistic pitch to indicate her infinite efficiency and charm as hostess, with that high strung energy making for beautifully gentle comedy fodder.
Peter is the pseudo-relaxed but egotistical academic whose identity pivots around pedantry and poorly disguised pomposity. Peter’s highly strung like his wife but while he’s pacing the room opining, she’s off puppeteering the domestic sphere. As middle class folk with backgrounds in academia, they present the quintessence of keeping up appearances while tensions simmer beneath the surface – and all for our comic kicks.
Elizabeth’s wind up merchant of a brother Vincent proudly introduces himself as our resident devil may care git who has an opinion on everything and a rather singular sense of humour. Joe Thomas crafts Vincent as an out and out twit, refusing to give the character any concrete saving graces and instead smugly parades this flawed pompous prat as a great source of unapologetically dark comedy complete with a smattering of outrageous musings.
Anna arrives late. Pregnant via the prat and armed with a finite amount of patience, Louise Marwood offers a healthy dose of the kick ass female alongside the dithering and slightly dotty Elizabeth (who does eventually get her moment to bring down the house in a gloriously lacerating take down – definitely a show highlight). And our calm influence (AKA our charming grenade) is best pal from childhood, Carl. Alex Gaumond plays the role brilliantly – every bit the inconspicuous keeper of the peace whose comic timing is proven golden and when his moment rolls around, he proves himself to have one of the best narrative strands within the mix.
We’ve all been there. Family get togethers which bring out the very best and the very worst of our nearest and dearest. All families feature the gits, the know-it-alls, the facades of best behaviour in front of the guests and so on. What’s in a Name finds much of its hilarity in that sense of shared experience and thanks to this brilliantly cast ensemble, the characters are as winningly comical as Delaporte and Patellière’s writing. The interval segue is inspired and there’s a broad variety of comedy put forward. From visual gags and one liners to much more carefully crafted exchanges fed by crossed wires, this production offers up a rotation of picked scabs and heated debates which inevitably head for a precipice – highly recommended!
What’s in a Name? is a Birmingham Repertory Theatre production presented by Adam Blanshay Productions and Nicolas Talar. It plays the Grand Opera House, York until October 12th 2019 and you can find tickets here.