Muddy review: What’s In A Name?
It's a dinner party danger zone – and Inbetweeners stars Joe Thomas is the dish of the day. This is a hilarious comedy that should come with health warning.
The dinner party – the playground of the middle aged and middle class. Add wine, experimental dishes and the over familiarity of old friends and the whole thing can unravel faster than a moth-eaten jumper. Oh we’ve all been there and the ghosts of social suppers past are about to come back to haunt us.
This is the the setting for What’s In A Name?, a comedy currently touring the UK, on at the Theatre Royal Windsor this week – and expectations are high. The French original, Le Prénom (First Name, if your French is as rusty as mine. Thank you Google Translate) is something of a juggernaut: a multi-award-winning play, 2012 film, that’s been staged in more than 30 countries. Apparently, at one point there were 30 productions playing in Germany. *Eyebrow raised* The show’s poster is of a baby with a Hitler ‘tache, so I think we know where this is going.
Aside from the play’s glittery credentials, it also has a cracking cast – and if you’re an avid telly watcher you’ll recognise most of them. Joe Thomas (The Inbetweeners, Chickens, Fresh Meat) plays dick-swinging, wind-up merchant Vincent – narrating and stirring up the action. His sister Elizabeth is played by Lara Patch (Star Stories, Bad Mother), brother-in-law Peter is Bo Poraj (Miranda, Musketeers), while Olivier-nominated stage star Summer Strallen (The Land Girls, Hotel Babylon) plays Vincent’s pregnant girlfriend and theatre stalwart Alex Gaumond completes the line up.
Right, down to the nitty gritty. We’re heading where black cab drivers dare not travel – South of the river, to deepest darkest Peckham, a property paradise now shared by Del Boy, gangsters and beard-stoking hipsters. Forty-something childhood sweethearts Elizabeth and Peter – pioneer gentrifiers of Peckham – live here in a stylish warehouse apartment with their two children Gooseberry and Apollinaire (no sniggering at the back).
Francis O’Connor’s set is a West Elm interior dream – modern corner sofa, Mid-Century dining chairs and light fittings, a slightly naff family portrait hangs on the wall, with the set dominated by floor- to-ceiling shelves stacked with books that scream pretentious academic (Elizabeth teaches French at a local state school while Peter is a language Professor at Goldsmiths).
While a banquette of Moroccan meze is served, washed down with a £500 of Chateau Margaux, the evening unravels when dad-to-be Vincent reveals the name of his unborn son – Adolf. Not the murderous dictator but Adolphe, title character of Benjamin Constant’s 1816 novel. A war of words breaks out, as Peter and Vincent play a game of willy-waving ping pong and before you know it a joke that goes too far, blows the lid off the veggie tagine and all the unspoken home truths spill out. Seething resentments, cruel nicknames, dark secrets, snobbery, egomania, judgie-mcjudgieness and political colours are all called out.
Joe Thomas is absolutely knock out – impeccable comic timing, flip flopping between quick wit and the full gamut of emotions. The audience hung on his every word and facial expression. Summer Strallen, best known for her theatre roles, was the perfect foil for Vincent’s nonsense as a feisty, pregnant, hot mama-to-be in leather trousers.
Laura Patch (Elizabeth) and Bo Poraj (Peter) have a natural chemistry and portray a textbook married couple. Uncomfortable viewing for some of the couples in the audience as the pre-dinner party bickering, career resentments, unbalanced parental chores and lack of bedroom action, are all out of the bag. I also loved their ‘Switzerland’ was friend Carl – a flamboyant trombonist and man of mystery. Alex Gourmand’s unfaltering comic timing and fab one-liners are more subtle, but provide light to the shade.
What’s In A Name? Is a laugh-out-loud, 90-minute fun fest. It’s uncomfortably familiar at times, but shines a light on how ridiculous and petty our domestic lives can be. There is a sitcom quality to this production, so is you want front row seats, go and see it while you can.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Celeb stalkers and anyone who loves sitcoms, comedy and great theatre. What’s In A Name? is hugely entertaining, achingly familiar and a bit inappropriate, in a good way.
Not for: Those who like their theatre to be intellectually challenging. If you’re super-sensitive to swearing and bad-taste jokes.
What’s In A Name? is on at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Sat 10 Nov, before moving on to Richmond.