A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

Thu 8th – Sat 17th November 2012

reviews

Anwen Jones

at 00:04 on 9th Nov 2012

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Courtesans, romans, love-sick teenagers, passion potions, a stone bust and multiple cross-dressers – not exactly the stereotypical ingredients for a comedic musical I must admit. However, if I take anything away from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s most recent performance, ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum’, it must be this – a comedy can be made from the most ridiculous ideas. Indeed, this show is all about the farcical and absurd.

It is a performance over-spilling with talent, energy and incredible wit. Curtain goes up, and the hilarity begins with the opening number ‘A comedy tonight’. The promise of ‘something for everyone’ rings true throughout the whole performance as what follows is ridiculously witty lyrics, hilarious choreography and wonderful characterisations. The opening of the musical also cleverly places the performance on two levels – that of the cast being actors to us as an audience and yet also as a cast within the play. Not only did this demonstrate the exceptional ability of the cast members to work in multiple dimensions but it also added to the farcical nature of the whole performance.

Such a production could not have succeeded without the brilliancy of the script; spun around Pseudolus’ preposterous lies and stories, the audience witness a seemingly ordinary situation turn into a madly panicked yet riotous scene. The constant change-overs of characters, the mis-understandings surrounding who is who, the notably talented non-verbal exchanges between the three Proteans – Aaron Anthony, Adam Collier and Gareth Tempest – all collide to create a mish-mash of traditional farce and contemporary humour.

The whole cast carried off this non-sensical script incredibly well and the energy from each individual most definitely ensured the achievement of such a funny, up-tempo performance. However, two characters were particularly impressive; Alec Fellows-Bennet as the sly, sarcastic slave Pseudolus did an excellent job carrying the weight of the performance whilst maintaining an almost relaxed yet insanely comedic air. In addition, Darren Seed as the old man Senex provided a notable portrayal of a slightly demented elderly husband desperately trying to overcome the domineering nature of his frightening wife. His tottering posture and incredible facial expressions were demonstrated most brilliantly in my favourite number of the night ‘Everybody ought to have a maid.’

All in all, I struggle to find any fault with this production. This is most probably down to the fact that I couldn’t contain my gaggling laughter from beginning to end. Perhaps the female characters could have stood out a little more, but then I feel the script limited their chance to grapple with the attention the male roles were getting. Praise must be given to the whole team of actors and technical staff who have worked to create such a wonderfully compelling comedic piece of theatre. All in all, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School most definitely deliver a side-splitting show for all to enjoy. To miss this would be missing out on a seriously good night of fun.

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Olivia Lace-Evans

at 01:13 on 9th Nov 2012

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‘A Funny Thing’ was one of the most pleasant theatrical experiences I have had in a long time. With Musical Theatre there is a great risk for ridiculous overacting and cheesy clichéd interpretations. And yet the whole production failed to disappoint, capturing the audience’s attention from start to finish and providing multiple moments where I had to quickly wipe tears of laughter from my eyes to make sure I didn’t miss a second.

The whole cast was remarkably strong, particularly when regarding the fact that the cast was made up of non-professionals from the Bristol Old Vid Theatre School. Every member right down to the ensemble displayed with great enthusiasm and kept in character extremely well throughout.

However, there were a couple of key actors who really brought the show alive and deserve a huge amount of credit for their performances. Darren Seed’s hilarious interpretation of Senex was delightful, delivering his lines with great comic interpretation. Charlie Haskins and Juliet Fox were also extremely entertaining and the latter's solo in the Second Act was some of the strongest singing of the night. However it was Alec Fellows-Bennett’s portrayal of Pseudolus that stole the show, illustrating superb comic timing and brilliant variety of expression which couldn’t fail to keep the attention of the audience.

The success of the show comes largely down to Jenny Stevens’ fantastic directing. The actors showed a great understanding of the text and the large space was used very well and with creative innovation. Both Musical theatre and farcical comedy are extremely challenging genres to master and yet the actors and scenes progressed fluidly and naturally. Furthermore, the set proved a brilliant comic tool and was used to great effect throughout. Praise should also be given to the charming choreography provided by Gail Gordon, showcasing the enthusiasm and energy of the cast as well as innovatively accentuating the comedy of the text.

Though I sincerely loved the production and there were moments of brilliance, there were places where the musical ability of the actors were shaky. The acting was superb but the singing at points was not as good as you might have hoped for. The fragility of some voices was masked during the group singing, so when some solos were given vocal weaknesses became more apparent and pronunciation of words was sometimes lost. This is not to say the overall standard of singing was bad as this was not the case at all, but there was room for polishing and greater precision necessary to enhance the musicality further.

However, the show as a whole was wonderful and I left the theatre humming along happily as I reflected on the show. So grab a ticket while you can! The production took an extremely clever and funny script and brought it alive with creativity and vision. If you want a performance which will make you laugh out loud, stir your emotions and leave you wanting more then don’t miss out on a great opportunity. I know I can’t wait to see what the School will be offering us next.

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Bristol Old Vic Theatre School WORLD CLASS TRAINING; 9th Nov 2012; 12:00:28

Thanks both! Our next offering is the wonderfully festive A Christmas Carol at the Redgrave Theatre, 30th nov - 20th Dec. So do hope you can come along to that.

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