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Number, Please. at Bread and Roses Theatre | Review

Number PleaseA brief review of a brief production. It’s easy to see why Number, Please. did well at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018 and will likely do very well again at Fringe 2019 – it’s the sort of slightly over the top humour that appeals to Fringe audiences, particularly as the Fringe has gradually shifted focus in recent years to comedy. It’s a reasonably tight show, and one that took me a little while to get into – which I initially found slightly concerning given the fifty-minute running time. But at some point, I connected with it, and by the end, its sheer silliness had won me over.

The production takes audiences back to the days of manual telephone switchboards operated by staff who would connect calls by inserting phone plugs into the ‘correct’ switchboard jack – hence the show’s title, in which the operator would ask the caller for the number they wished to connect to. Janice (Georgie Carey), Sheila (Lauren Robinson) and Penny (Olivia Thom) work under the pernicious micro-manager Mr Wilson (Tom Hindle), though the show later asserts that behind a cold exterior is just another person looking for love.

What seemed more ridiculous than anything else to me was that the trains ran on time (perhaps they did back in the day). Charlie (Max Prentice) and Jack (Nathan Robertson) are supporting characters as the action centres around Sheila, who draws the short straw in taking a call containing a coded message. To delve any deeper into the narrative would be revealing too much, though it is evident that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, by which what I really mean is that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. A well-timed social media plug partway through the performance was cleverly done (they could, of course, have waited until the end, but if you’re anything like me, scant attention is paid to post-curtain call spiels).

Some plummy accents are deployed – the clipped tones of Noel Coward plays – and slow-motion is used in what I consider to be by far its most effective purpose across the board: for a laugh. It’s not the easiest of narratives to follow, but this is outweighed by some brilliant comic timing. One or two costumes looked more 1960s than 1950s to me, and the production is also ahead of its time in another sense. Putting in a female lead in a Fifties context may not have been entirely convincing, given prevailing attitudes to women at the time, but this does not ultimately detract from an engaging and enthusiastic performance.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Touring to Sheffield before returning to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year is Number, Please, a farcical comedy set in the 1950s that satires classic spy films. Think Clue, think Monty Python, think The 39 Steps… But with actual roles for women.

When switchboard operator Sheila Chadwick answers a mysterious call from a dying woman, she is entrusted with a top-secret message to be delivered to the ominous Charles Briand. Fast-forward half an hour, Sheila is chasing friends, foes, and old flames on the 14:52 to Exeter, as members of the Nuclear Justice Association attempt to arm
the entire world with enough weapons to destroy it. Can Sheila, the not-so-innocent bystander help diffuse the situation? Or will her utter lack of experience and necessary skills drag the mismatched team down?

Writer/Director – Becca Chadder
Producer – Katy Galloway
Sheila – Lauren Robinson
Penny – Olivia Thom
Janice – Georgie Carey
Charlie – Max Prentice
Jack – Nathan Robertson
Pete/Grant – Tom Hindle

Number, Please.
Performance Dates – 23/24th July 2019
Running Time – 50 minutes
The Bread and Roses Theatre, Clapham
http://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/

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