The Doubtful Guest

Shôn Dale-Jones, inspired by the book by Edward Gorey
Sherman Cymru Theatre, Cardiff

Production photo

From an impossibly deconstructed piece of theatre, the magnificent Hoipolloi theatre company creates in The Doubtful Guest an utterly absorbing world, bringing the surreal invention of Edward Gorey into perfect focus. Writer-director Shôn Dale-Jones brings considerable ingenuity of her own to Gorey's original, creating this perfectly imagined, brilliantly executed, captivating piece of mayhem.

Hoipolloi have already proved themselves masters of this self-referential, exquisitely over-eager, mock-amateur comic veneer in Floating and Story of a Rabbit. This latest production seals the deal: by the final curtain, with the stage now all but empty, an audience, helpless with laughter and unable to leave, none entirely certain that the evening is over. The few who do leave, only make it as far as the door before capitulating and slinking quietly back to the nearest empty seat. Quite how the company manage to make an empty stage funny is part of their genius.

Dale-Jones steers this water-tight ensemble with a light hand. Three of the five-strong cast are Lecoq trained, and the creative team includes ballet coaching from Lee Fisher; this lends a mesmerizingly macabre physicality, as disjointed as it is fluid, as expressive as it is impossibly stilted. To single out a performance seems almost to miss the point; and besides, Stefanie Müller, Andrew Pembrooke, Ben Frimston, Jill Norman and Trond-Erik Vassdal all excel. Together they have crafted a paradoxical production and their artful over-egging and choreographed spontaneity hold captive a wide audience of all ages. Stefanie Müller's set, a pseudo-Edwardian, deconstructed world of pulleys and ropes, coat hooks and linen baskets provides the perfect context.

Hoipolloi claim always to have been fascinated by nonsense and in breaking theatrical rules. The anarchic bedlam this inspires makes for compulsive theatre and I eagerly await their next production.

This production was reviewed by Philip Fisher at Watford Palace, Ray Brown at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and by V Mitchell at Northern Stage, Newcastle

Reviewer: Allison Vale

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