CUPPERS: Rumours (Regent's Park)

Wed 9th November 2011

reviews

J M

at 04:57 on 10th Nov 2011

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'Rumours' is Neil Simon's answer to the question “what happens when you mix a bunch of posh twats and a gun?”. It adopts the fairly standard formula of affluent couples exchanging gossip about each other at a party, but perforates this with the attempted suicide of their host Charley Brooks. This triggers a hilarious descent into silliness as the characters struggle to maintain order in a house full of utter buffoons. Discerning audiences may recoil at such manhandling of a topic as weighty as suicide, yet the only victim of the botched shooting is Charley Brooks' earlobe, and the domino effect which ensues is surprisingly lacking in morbid humour, yet saturated with brilliantly unadulterated farce.

In terms of comedy, Regent Park's interpretation of this thought experiment dutifully toed the line of convention, but nevertheless fixed permanent grins on the faces of both the audience and judges, punctuated by bouts of snorting (during the gloriously ridiculous final tableau, one audience member was spotted literally slapping his thighs). I'm very reluctant to use the phrase “rip-roaringly funny”, but this play was rip-roaringly funny. Although the portrayal of Chris and Ken Bevan (Alice Porter and Tim Wickenden) was quite unoriginal and drew from a shallow stereotype of the upper classes, this served as a necessary precedent to make the various quirks of the rest of the cast all the more hilarious. Any initial misgivings about Oxford students playing toffs and fops were promptly quashed by the entry of Rhys Eden's raucously scouse Leonard Cummings. Whilst corpsing is generally frowned upon in the dramatic community as a bungle of the highest order (and would not be tolerated outside of Cuppers), his was an entertaining farce-enhancer.

Perhaps much of the success of the play was due to this infectiously playful dynamic between the cast. In a script more or less equally distributed between characters, Sophie Clayton's direction maintained a sense of cohesion. Each cast member was well suited to their role in terms of acting skill, which ranged from each extreme, and body language was acutely twinned with appearance to make each caricature fully realised: the entrance of the Amazonian Cookie Cusak (Amelia Gurley) and her comparatively diminutive husband, Ernest (Mikey Blake) was typically absurd. The Andrew Sachs-esque deference of Ernest was an absolute winner, particularly in his first stilted introduction to Glenn Cooper (Michael Beale) - a cringe-worthy moment reminiscent of freshers week conversation.

Alice Porter's editing of the original unfortunately left it bereft of the Wildean crescendo and acceleration that is integral to farcical comedy, but this is a criticism which goes hand in hand with the format of Cuppers. This streamlined version, however, demonstrated a keen eye for the balance between comedy and plot, and the device of a clock indicating the passing of time followed by a recapitulation was both simple and effective. The cast were complemented by a large and efficient crew with several nicely detailed touches in the costume and makeup (Phoebe Williams and Johanna Harrison). My only criticism here is a minor niggle concerning sound effects as, confusingly, the telephone was louder than the gun.

Cuppers provides a strange and challenging set of conditions in which to produce a play, and Regent's Park have, I think, got the right idea in choosing to do decidedly low brow humour performed in a decidedly facetious fashion. This is a play for anyone not wanting to see another consciously kooky meta-Hamlet. Perhaps the relation between the characters' flaws and the plot was not sufficiently explored, or perhaps the question of social class wasn't sufficiently raised: by the end I didn't care, as I was too busy laughing at a sobbing trouser-less barrister.

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