Touring until November 30
3* The Grand Gesture: Liverpool Playhouse
Shorter version at Whatsonastage: www.whatsonstage.com
The Russians are coming, so it seems: first, Dostoyevsky (which I nearly spelt correctly at the very first attempt), and now a production based on Nikolai Erdman’s play, ‘The Suicide’ but everything depends on whether you were conquered by what you saw. What’s in a name, after all,and this free and easy adaptation with bleak, black humour has been translated into a riotous, raucous free for all, including one scene played almost completely in the dark.
Likewise, the ramshackle staging, for surrounding a boarding house room is a long, broken down wall on the left side, a structure like NYC’s Flat Iron building to the right, an EiffelTower shaped window in the middle, and what looks like a plane about to crash land overhead.
Here dwells, or exists, the hapless hero, with no job and no prospects, so desperate he even thinks a musical career will lead to fame and fortune (yes, this has been updated, à la Pantomime mode in some places). Once he decides there is only one way out, a bizarre assortment of characters descend, intent on exploiting him for the greater good, and religious, political and economical reasons, even for the cause of true love.
Michael Hugo is wonderfully versatile as Simeon Duff -and who knew so many words rhyme with that, with itinerant musicians happily playing and popping up everywhere being an integral part of Northern Broadsides. He blunders along, ricocheting from despair to delirium, comically aided and abetted by his better half (well, she does have a job), Mary; Samantha Robinson, as a first class foil. As for her superstitiously religious mother; Sadie, foul mouthed and malaprop prone (a mouthful in itself), Angela Bain is a marvelously funny turn in a play full of entertaining characters.
Or rather, caricatures, all excellently portrayed, though standing room only here for the cynical, Burns quoting Catholic priest (Alan McMahon), the deeply serious postman, who insists everything is from ‘A Marxist point of view’ (George Timms) and the pompous, posturing intellectual (Robert Pickavance), a role in which one can easily picture Barrie Rutter himself.
So, does it all end in tears? Well, a lot of the audience were nearly hysterical with laughter, throughout. At the very least, this concoction is certainly most unusual.