It’s not quite pantomime season, but this pacey and curious production has the warmth, absurdity, and frequent cross-dressing to almost qualify for that dubious label.
What sets it apart from those celeb-draped neon-coloured extravaganzas is that rather than being a tale of magic carpets, magic slippers, or magic beans, this is supposedly a tale of the humdrum. The magic is in the humour.
An adaptation of George Grossmith’s late 19th century satiric novel, it charts 15 months in the life of an ordinary city clerk. The conceit is that Charlie Pooter (portrayed without a single misstep by Trevor Burton) has decided that if someone like Pepys can make people endure his diary, then so can he – and he’s enlisted a troupe of amateur thespians to enact it on stage.
Accompanied on piano throughout by Mr Putley (Selwyn Tillett), he charts the adventures of his household: the excitement of not managing to growing cress and radishes; the joys of enamel paint; the annual holiday to the same small Essex resort. Each entry is a barbed comment on pretention of the aspiring classes, with order frequently tipped asunder by the crashing brashness of Pooter’s hapless but somehow high-achieving son Lupin (Laurence Green).
Green, together with Steven Scase and Paul Ellingford, takes on a slew of characters, changing costume, switching between accents, limps, and hats, as they crash manically through the story. They are sometimes singing, occasionally sashaying suggestively, and constantly silly.
Two minor characters appear as skeletons hanging from rails, their voices provided by the actors hiding their mouths behind newspapers as they have conversations – as multiple characters – with themselves. It is stupid, absurd, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Freja Gift’s direction and design gives both style and substance, ensuring lots of laughs without every becoming cruel. The conceit wears a little thin in places and a couple of judicious cuts to the text would help keep up the quality, but it never dips for long.
If you’re looking for a featherlight distraction to tickle you on these cold winter nights, you really should get a ticket. Oh yes you should.