A Little Fantasyy

Told by an Idiot

Soho

(2003)

Review by Philip Fisher

This combination of mime, physical theatre and spoken drama is apparently based on the works of Flannery O'Connor. It is Told by an Idiot's homage to American films of the middle of the last century.

The main storyline is simple: Enoch Baxter (Ged Simmons) has been having an affair with his former secretary and would-be actress, Barbra Streisand lookalike Bonny Warren (Rachel Donovan). His wife, Eloise (Jane Guernier) is loyal and unwitting. Wherever the lovers go, they fall over her and also two spunky kids, Carol (Hayley Carmichael) and Lana (Lisa Hammond).

This plot intertwines with that of a hillbilly family, the Hopewells containing a son, Geff, with a wooden leg and a bad manner. He falls for the same Lana, this time a bible seller who steals his leg.

We then allowed to see into the various characters' filmic fantasies. There is the idol-worship of the King Kong-like Gonga and the effect that he has when his fans meet him, as well as a kind of Brief Encounter pastiche that elicits audience reaction from tears through laughter to sleep.

By far the best is a hilarious Jimmy Cagney Looky-likey contest. This has four contestants: first the two lovers, then Jane Guernier as Eloise Baxter who gives a hilariously expressive performance - all rolling eyes that draws spontaneous applause from the audience. Best of all is a double act. This is Hayley Carmichael and Lisa Hammond giving a mini-Vaudeville production of Babyface which brings the house down.

Under Paul Hunter's sometimes over-indulgent direction, Told by an Idiot are always inventive whether it is the performances, Naomi Wilkinson's versatile set that can change from the fires of hell to an airplane cockpit in seconds, or Iain Johnstone's teasing music.

The pace sometimes slackens but there is always more fun just around the corner. This dream-like venture into small-town America in the prime age of the talkies contains many of the charming, witty touches that one expects from this innovative company. These include ten-pin bowling, chases after invisible cockerels and many human-generated sound effects.

The acting is generally good especially from Guernier and the dynamic duo of Carmichael and Hammond, never better than when disappointed as competition also-rans. The play also has a more serious intent as it makes some ascerbic comments about the Great American Dream.