Monday, 14 August 2017

Review The Trial Of Le Singe

A show inspired by Napoleonic War monkey business ultimately disappoints Francis Beckett.

The Trial of Le Singe
by Matthew Jameson  

Funky But Clunky Monkey

The Trial of Le Singe, directed and written by Matthew Jameson, is a rough and ready reconstruction of a Napoleonic Wars legend.

A monkey washed up on a beach near Hartlepool in a cage was apparently mistaken by locals for a rascally French spy.  Promising material for what could be a thought-provoking but hilarious show.

Or just a damn good piece of slapstick. But here’s the thing about slapstick.  It has to be funny.  Constantly, achingly funny.  Otherwise, it’s tedious.

Here’s another thing.  Just doing a slapstick sort of thing, like putting a man with hairy legs into a miniskirt and blonde wig and having him mince about a bit ... You know, it isn’t in itself funny, however well it’s done (and in this production, Bertie Cox does it  magnificently.)

It’s made funny by the context and, however absurd, the motivation for it, and if you don’t provide either, you’ll find that no one laughs.

I first learnt this as a boy when I was reduced to helpless mirth watching the patron saint of detrouserment,  Brian Rix  losing his trousers on stage. Why it was funny, I didn't understand at the time. Only later did I realise detrouserment is only funny when a writer constructs a scene around it to make it funny.

Here’s a third thing about slapstick.  It doesn’t suddenly become satire when someone mentions Brexit.

Of course the content of The Trial Of Le Singe  can easily lend itself to some comments about the foolishness of Brexit.

The farce that emerges at The Water Rats contains lots and lots of slapstick and a few good lines – the best I think being: “The one ‘orse in this town were a donkey, and that were shot before I were born.”

The show certainly does boast six very young, very talented, hard-working and enthusiastic actors, five of them being graduates of E15 Acting School.

Lloyd McDonagh makes a wonderfully agile, sympathetic, but definitely simian French monkey. Meanwhile Leah Kirby is the only woman cast member, but  she doesn't play the only woman character, instead making a convincing sad, lonely village idiot.

Matthew Jameson himself is excellent as a gruff and cynical landlord – he seems to be a much better actor and director than writer – and Eddy Larry is a fine town drunk.

William Hastings as the toff is hampered by some unconvincing dialogue and a rather puzzling costume decision which has him wearing a frock coat above a pair of tights.

Good as they are, they struggle to raise laughs in a shipwreck of a show. All of them are reduced by the end to bellowing their lines in the hope of raising a few laughs which, in a tiny venue like The Water Rats, is jarring rather than funny.

Well done to the company The Heretical Historians for realising this local legend is strong material for our times, but it's let down by the execution and, in the end, I can only offer a lower range amber light.

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