When the poster for a show you know very little about, is adorned by a baby sporting a Hitler-esque moustache, it’s hard to know what to expect. Prior to tonight, I was not familiar at all with What’s in a Name?, and had made the conscious decision to keep it that way until I watched the show. This is something I will often do when I haven’t experienced a previous version (be that as a film, TV programme, theatre show, book etc), to be able to have a completely unbiased and unaffected view, and in turn the ability to judge it on its merits as a standalone piece.
So what was I expecting from a play that used a dictator-impersonating infant as its main advertising feature? No idea to be honest – though I certainly had my reservations, as comedy finding humour in horrendous historical events can quite often overstep the mark and end up very distasteful and thoroughly unfunny. Fortunately, what I actually experienced was a fabulously funny, heart-warmingly endearing and incredibly well-presented piece of theatre brilliance. As the saying goes, “never judge a book by its cover”.
The French play (original title Le Prénom) is approaching its 10th year since debuting, and has received numerous French award nominations and huge critical acclaim during that period. It has also been turned into a film (in 2012) as well as being translated and adapted for both this British rendition and also a German version – Der Vorname. The main changes (aside from the language) to this adaptation are the location – Paris becomes Peckham, the references – including a less than subtle hat-tip or two to a certain political situation, and to an extent the class level – the behaviours and colloquial language are very English, and less elegant though almost undoubtedly more lovable for a British audience, than if the piece had simply been translated. Jeremy Sams (the adapter, translator and director of the show) has got it absolutely spot on.
The set was wonderfully real. Almost immediately you accepted that you were watching people in their home, rather than a theatre stage made to look like a house. The cast too were superb, each creating a different and relatable character. I’m sure not a single member of the audience would have denied being able to compare each individual with a friend or family member, at least partially anyway. Joe Thomas (of The Inbetweeners fame) acted as narrator as well as the wealthy and cocksure Vincent. His delivery was simply impeccable and the facial expressions he is so recognised for on TV are perfectly suited to his role. He beautifully swapped between quick wit and touching moments, and really owned the stage. Summer Strallen, perhaps better known for her musical theatre exploits, was excellent as Vince’s partner Anna and managed the dynamic range of her emotions masterfully. Laura Patch (Elizabeth) and Bo Poraj (Peter) portrayed a textbook married couple, quintessentially English with quirks and foibles exactly as expected. Their chemistry was unquestionable and always lovably familiar. Alex Gaumond completed the fivesome as the slightly flamboyant Carl, and was the ideal contrast to the others. His unfaltering comic timing and brilliant one-liners were differently projected but equally as funny, and his mannerisms again easily relatable to those of someone ‘in real life’.
To summarise, What’s in a Name? is funny, familiar and fantastic. It takes a perfectly simple premise, lets it evolve in a truly genuine way, and never once overplays the innocence and realism. Go and watch it, acknowledge the little bits of yourself you can see in each of the characters, and leave smiling about the ridiculousness, yet charming nature of human behaviour, and just how brilliantly it is brought to life in this wonderful play.
Review by Sam Dunning
You are invited to take a seat at the table for a riotously funny evening that questions whether a person’s name truly reflects who they are Father-to-be Vincent and his partner Anna are invited to dinner by his sister Elizabeth and her husband, Peter. They are joined by childhood friend Carl for a mature and sophisticated gathering.
The meal is lovingly prepared, and wine carefully selected. The friends are prepared for the usual humorous exchanges they’ve come to expect.
What’s In A Name?
Booking: 22/10/2019 to 26/10/2019
Book Tickets for Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Buckinghamshire, HP20 1UG