400: A Comedy
Le Navet Bete with Tony Hawks and Jack Nicholson
Le Navet Bete
Theatre Royal Plymouth
Billed as a historical comedy, 400: A Comedy, created for the Mayflower 400 celebrations last year, explores the UK’s relationship with America and our relationship with one another in a breathless 75-minute diversion.
The award-winning Le Navet Bete (whose most recent absolutely tremendous and flamboyant Treasure Island almost toppled its hilarious Jungle Book from the hard-fought top spot in my list of LNB’s best) returns with a pared-back, out-of-this-world collaboration with renowned comedian Tony Hawks and one of the UK theatre’s best comedy writers and directors, John Nicholson (Peepolykus, BBC Radio 4).
The intrepid quartet (Al Dunn, Dan Bianchi, Matt Freeman and Nick Bunt) sets out to tackle 400 years of Anglo-American relations through improvisation (having graduated the beginners' course) which, suffice it to say, includes whisking up a storm of intolerance in a chicken shed; a horny and confused Bill Clinton riding a unicycle; incarcerating aliens just because they are; guest appearances by wind-up-her-skirt Marilyn and a rhine-stoned Carlos Santana, Churchill with meatloaf; Abe Lincoln; a pantomime horse and other comically contrived 'improv' moments.
Its trademark physical theatre, much dressing up and slapstick is minimal this time out, but the silliness is still there in spades and there's a fab musical interlude as Bunt passionately serenades the tackle and netting of his would-be fishing biscuits-and-cake buddy.
With our racehorses threatened, a random word machine courtesy of SETI, alienation and ‘improvention’ rife, there are laugh-out-loud moments but a lot of running about and somewhat stilted exchanges.
I am afraid I’m not a fan this time, but I suspect the piece will become slicker as it beds in and will be better suited to the smaller Drum stage (to which it moves on 22 June).
Reviewer: Karen Bussell