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Review of Tristram Shandy: Live At London! at OSO Art Centre

Tristram Shandy: Live At London!
Tristram Shandy: Live At London!

Perhaps, just perhaps, one needs to be in the right sort of mood to fully appreciate Tristram Shandy: Live At London!, which is certainly ambitious staging an adaptation of a book by Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) that I must confess I have never read in its entirety. Such is its rambling and discursive nature, with digressions upon digressions, that I lost interest partway through the fifth volume (there are nine in total). I suppose I had the double advantage of knowing roughly what sort of show this would be, without having the foggiest idea how the story would end.

Tristam Shandy (Tim Atkin) is a learned and complicated fellow, though the French, Greek and Latin passages and phrases that are found in the book stay in the book. A suspension of disbelief is nonetheless required here as Shandy is transported (quite how is never explained in the narrative) from “258 years ago” to the present day, to be interviewed by Alice (Inge-Vera Lipsius), in what is an interview, performance and book signing at a major bookstore. Almost inevitably, there is some humour to be gained in Shandy’s unfamiliarity with modern-day terminology.

There’s a style of wit that borders of pedantry, and rather like the book, a total inability on Shandy’s part to explain anything plainly. It’s at its most successful in a scene where the language of official papers was being parodied. That the style of legal documents hasn’t changed that much to this day says something about how some things really are timelessly relevant.

Elsewhere, the shoehorning and namedropping of modern current affairs and political events seemed an unnecessary mechanism through which the production attempts to draw out certain themes. The show mercifully avoids mentioning a certain referendum result and a certain president, but it should, overall, be more trusting of its audiences to work out parallels between Shandy’s day and age and their own for themselves. They are more than capable of doing so. It’s not that Alice’s interjections aren’t amusing – they are, and also deeply ironic, given her frustration with Shandy whenever he apparently strays off the beaten path.

A ‘post-show discussion’ part way through the second half (don’t ask) suitably highlighted some glaring inconsistencies in the book, and thus in this stage adaptation of it. There also came a point during a speech by Shandy towards the end of the show at which it dawned on me that I had no idea what he was talking about. The frenetic pace of the first half hadn’t been wholly sustained through to the end of the second, but it rather abruptly ends long before it runs out of steam.

Shandy acts as director of a group of actors who reconstruct his story, scene by scene. A lot of the acting is deliberately and comically melodramatic. Whenever anything happens to Doctor Slop (Patrick Wilson – no, not that one), for example, it’s as though a major life event is taking place. There are no weak links in this tight cast, and the stand-out performance (aside from Shandy and Alice) comes from Robert Eyers as Uncle Toby, a sight to behold in some glorious facial expressions and a delight to listen to in some amusing dialogue.

At the end of the day, it’s a strong production. The humour may not suit everyone, but it’s accessible for those unfamiliar with Shandy and a suitable homage to this rather wild and larger than life character or those who are. The show gets increasingly unruly as it progresses, and as the chaos increases so does the production’s appeal. In short: it’s really rather good.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

And it was written: let there be a book tour. Tristram Shandy’s sizzling autobiography, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, has been in print for 240 years. To celebrate, the author is touring the country, wowing audiences with a theatrical extravaganza which captures the scandal, wit and wisdom of this instant classic. Morrissey’s autobiography went straight to Penguin Classics; well Tristram’s got Oxford and Wordsworth as well. Although we tend not to talk about the Wordsworth edition.

Tristram Shandy – Tim Atkin
Alice – Rhiannon Shaw
Walter Shandy – Sam Lamont
Elizabeth Shandy – Molly Stacey
Uncle Toby – Robert Eyers
Widow Wadman – Millie Foy
Corporal Trim – Tim Vaughan
Susannah – Luisa Callander
Obadiah – John Tothill
Bridget – Louisa Keight
Doctor Slop – Patrick Wilson
The Midwife – Ruby Keane

Director/Writer – Will Dalrymple
Producers – Will Dalrymple, Mark Bittlestone, William Penswick
Publicity Designer – Hannah Taylor

7th-8th November 2017


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