Monday 11 February 2013

A Woman of No Importance... or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow - review

Written by: Jess Nesling (@JessNes1)

The Hen and Chickens Theatre, London

What really goes on behind closed doors? Katherine Rodden’s new play reveals that even the most outwardly perfect family is far from flawless. This charming new comedy of manners from Paradigm Theatre Company, directed by Cat Robey, takes inspiration from Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward and mixes it with a splash of Sainsbury’s own Merlot to comic effect.

The play opens with a rather tipsy Lauren (Katherine Rodden) in floral pyjamas, practicing a monologue from Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance whilst swaying on the sofa, gazing bleary-eyed at her reflection in an upside-down hand mirror. She takes to the stage with ease and has the audience giggling as she merrily prances about her flat, chatting to herself in a plum-English, drunken slur about the woes of being a struggling actress.

The comedy heightens when Lauren’s mother (Rachel Dobell) turns up unexpectedly. Rodden depicts an awkward mother-daughter relationship where neither really enjoys the other’s company. It is packed with hilarious one-liners from both characters - even when Mother announces that she has left Lauren’s father and wants a divorce. The high standard of acting and writing portrays a very believable relationship.

The entrance of Lauren’s father (Alan Booty) provides a new set of laughs, with his flawed, upper class views being a particularly amusing focal point. Unfortunately, Rodden’s acting takes a dip at this point, her rendition of a spoilt daughter slipping to tiring shrillness and overindulgent petulance. From this scene onwards, her moments of brilliance are often marred by a tendency to overstate the act.

The play reaches a climax with the divorce scene. The parents decide that the most neutral meeting point is Lauren’s front room. She clearly wants nothing to do with the whole business, and she certainly does not want to hear the explicit details of both of her parents’ affairs.

This scene is so close to comedy perfection; a delightful blend of comic timing, wonderful writing, and a talented cast brings the script to life making the audience roar with laughter. The heated interaction between Lauren’s parents was certainly the highlight of the play. The addition of lawyers Craig (Keith Wallis) and particularly Geoffrey (Matt Houlihan) is the cherry on the cake, as they squirm awkwardly whilst listening to the particulars of Lauren’s parents’ problems.

The play could have finished there, but Rodden chooses to introduce Lauren’s close friend Adrian (Patrick Neyman). He is clearly very fond of Lauren and depicts the cliché, smarmy boyfriend type to a tee - cosying up to the parents in the hope of winning over the unsuspecting Lauren.

His attempts are dashed by the unanticipated return of Lauren’s actor boyfriend, Simon (David Hemstead). The complete antithesis of Adrian in height and class, he sticks out like a sore thumb with his Cockney accent and casual clothes as the other characters openly suggest various offensive adjectives to try to sum him up. Although it would have been interesting if his character was more developed, the palpable tension between Adrian and Simon is highly amusing and certainly worth his entrance. When the tension builds into slapstick comedy there are some serious laugh-out-loud moments right to the very end.

This is a refreshing piece of fringe theatre, in a delightful space, and with an exciting cast. It touches upon an array of themes in a light-hearted manner without overwhelming the audience. Paradigm Theatre Company certainly succeeds in quenching our thirst for new comedy.

This production runs until 23rd February 2013. 
@ParadigmTheatre @TheHenChickens

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