Writer: Philip Porter / Director: Janice Honeyman
Cast: Sophia Nomvete, Ellie Beaven, Felix Hayes, Kim Hartman, Nicholas Day, Bally Gill, Laura Kirman, Steven Kynman, Geoffrey Lumb , Byron Mondahl, Esther Niles, Harriet Slater, Katherine Toy, Jon Trenchard and Johnson Willis.
* Images by Pete Le May, RSC
“Bragg, Bragg, Bragg, Bragg, Bragg, Bragg!”
My first trip to Stratford- upon- Avon, sounds totally insane, but having visited The Globe to see ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ years ago I thought it was time to complete my Shakespeare pilgrimage. I was rather glad that it wasn’t a Shakespeare play I was seeing, as I’m not really a follower of the obvious.
Circumstances lead me to see Vice Versa (or The Decline and Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands Of his Canny Servant Dexter and Terence the Monkey) by Philip Porter – a new Ancient Rome- inspired comedy ruckus, affectionately lifted from the Roman playwright, Plautus. The plot thus: ” A wily servant and a pair of wronged young lovers who team up to bamboozle a pompous general. Dodgy disguises, comic capers and a talking monkey create pandemonium as the tricksters try to save the girl, free the servant and live to tell the tale.”
Seeing the show in preview, it is highly likely that everything will be snipped and tightened as their run, till September 9th, goes forward. I did feel the running time of over 2 hours was a little too long, but by no means did this reduce any of my enjoyment.
A simple, decorative Italian-style Colin Richmond set interspersed with energetic and thunderous musical numbers by Sam Kenyon, the band dressed as sweet little monkeys, the scene was well and truly set.
Hamlet’s Polonius did say “Seneca cannot be too heavy nor Plautus too light” – Well, Shakespeare doesn’t always have to get it right, right? This was very light, frothy, fun and didn’t need much analysis or over thinking. I have always seen plenty of room for all kinds of mediums and genres within the RSC, this attitude reflects much more on the unpolished world the Bard knew himself. – Of course, this is my considered opinion.
The order of Roman day is, as per usual, slavery, sex, dirt, satire and, bums, breasts, bodily functions, and Phil Porter makes no bones or apologies about this frivolous fact. It collapses in the vein of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Up Pompei, mixed in with the double entendre disease of the Carry On series films. Why not borrow and infuse genius from past greats? Who knows what you may see..
Heavy on song and dance physicality, buffoonery, slapstick, the modern implantation of Trump references (Who doesn’t include this delicious swipe at irony in everything these days) and primitive-modern props make this play sublime and ridiculous all in its own sphere.
Vice Versa never fell short of exaggeration or perspiration..I have to admire the high energy of the ensemble, this fast-paced physical romp must be highly grueling and demanding for the actors, adding in the token lights and the numerous performance enhancing bells and whistles. More than half were caked in mud make- up, raggedy clothes, straw-like wigs and gnarly infection- filled prosthetic teeth and facial adornments. I loved the clothes, it was a true raid on the proverbial dressing up box.