As a Cornish girl in London, I was excited to head to the Vaults underneath Waterloo Station to watch this play about a newly-founded Cornish nation trying to establish an identity and make decisions about the future.
The audience sit on three sides of a simple stage, with a table and two chairs as the only set. A simple flag on the desk lets us know whether we’re in Cornwall or elsewhere. The set positioning meant that occasionally the audience were left looking at the backs of actors but the action was fast paced enough that it didn’t cause a major problem. What did appear to cause some issues, were the Cornish accents and there were a couple of moments I wanted to jump up and complain that no Cornishman would ever pronounce words like that (it should be noted, however, that Wesley Griffith was a definite exception to this rule with his Kernow King-like natural accent). Nevertheless, it was a comic enough piece that you could mostly ignore these issues and enjoy the show.
Griffith, as Cornish president Sam, played an amiable and likeable lead. Sam clearly wanted what was best for the motherland and became increasingly upset at ‘Devil-on-his-shoulder’ Clive, played by David Frias-Robles, the despicable city-slicker and obvious villain of the piece who constantly manipulates the three naive Cornishmen into making foolish mistakes. Frias-Robles’ Clive was a convincing smarmy git and you couldn’t help but want to slap him and tell him where to shove his yacht-with-the-pink-mast.
My problem with this set-up was that throughout the show the Cornish were portrayed as both naive and a bit dim, particularly when you add in the two comic relief actors played by writer Daniel Hallissey and newcomer Charlie Bedford. Their characters, Jarleth and Merryn, played up to the stereotype of Cornish stupidity throughout, which was often very funny, particularly in the case of Bedford’s Merryn, but it was frustrating at times that the Cornish locals were apparently all passionate about their country, but not bright enough to think through the consequences of their actions. The only Cornish character that appeared to have any brainpower was expat Lisa (Angelica Rose Penn) who played down her Cornishness after a move to London and couldn’t decide if she was on Clive or Sam’s side. Penn did her best with a fairly two-dimensional character, but it was hard to appreciate a character who switched her support at the drop of a hat.
There were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments in this short play (it was only one hour from start to finish) and I honestly don’t know how they came up with so many bear puns for the interrogation scene. Merryn’s slightly bizarre costumes, which included a buttock-exposing swimsuit, were fairly amusing throughout, as was his innocently bizarre personality and he was very funny to watch. Bedford obviously enjoyed the role and, in spite of myself, I couldn’t help but laugh at his antics, particularly in the aforementioned interrogation of Chinese Premier Ping, played Angelo Paragosa.
A special mention should also go to Philip Matejtschuk’s sound which included some fantastic Cornish hits from Jethro to Trelawney, as well as some cunningly placed sound effects to help make some of the comic moments even more amusing.
So, if you want a night of high-brow theatre, I wouldn’t recommend going to see Cornwall vs China, however, if you’re interested in a comic whirl full of sweary-slapstick, stereotypes, bears and buttocks then this is the show for you. Just remember, it’s always jam first on your scone…
Review by Cat Lamin
Cornwall vs China looks at a nation searching for an identity, where the newly established country, Cornwall, has to make fundamental decisions in the chaos of uncertainty.
We witness dreams being sold and dismantled and borders collapsing in the brink of war.
This razor sharp comedy explores how liberty and the essence of a country can very quickly be chipped away, one Cornish pasty at a time. “We declare war on Wednesday, surrender by Friday and are all rich by next week.
About The Company
Family Misfortunes (The Vaults, 2015), The Piano Man (National Tour, New Diorama Theatre, 2015), I’ll Fix It Later (Soho Theatre, 2013), AGM (Hen & Chickens Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2011), Seven Swans are Swimming (BBC Radio Devon, 2007)