The Doubtful Guest

Shôn Dale-Jones, inspired by the book by Edward Goray
Hoipolloi and the Theatre Royal Plymouth in association with English Touring Theatre and Watford Palace Theatre
Northern Stage, Newcastle, & Touring
(2007)

Production photo

Hoipolloi Theatre Company is back on the road with their 'conveniently curious comedy' The Doubtful Guest, which is inspired by the book by Edward Goray.

The band of five actors break down the fourth wall as they guide the audience through the tumultuous life of the Bishops as they deal with, you've guessed it a rather intrusive guest. A guest that is not of human form and its uncontrollable mischievousness wreaks havoc on what was once a seemingly normal household.

A clunking catastrophe in the wings begins this 'play within a play' and the cast continue to tell us their 'perplexing' story with its various chapters, all introduced simply with titles such as 'Dancing through the night', 'How dare you, get out' and 'Grandma's birthday'. These verbally simple, melodramatic scenes are heavily decorated with lights, dark music and a multitude of props that are scattered about the stage and some are also suspended from upper height. Throughout the piece, director Shôn Dale-Jones injects highly stylised movement sequences, possibly in homage to Goray and his love of ballet and other forms of dance.

These scenes may be thought by many to be enough of a theatrical event; however Hoipolloi seem to find it necessary to continually point out the mechanics of their play rather than to dive straight in. In fact, with the use of a large blackboard, performer Trond-Erik Vassdal explains to us the 'theatrical inventions' that will be playing the 'guest', which include a drawing, a white sheet and sometimes the cast members. He also uses this blackboard to draw a diagram the stage and the auditorium for those of us who didn't know!

Nonsense, one might feel! However, it is highly likely that Hoipolloi would enjoy that reaction as they proclaim they have 'always been fascinated by nonsense'. And it seemed the audience were too. There was a diverse range of people there, from infant to ancient and the younger of the audience were certainly interested by this strange concept and stayed remarkably alert throughout.

Hoipolloi are certainly a unique company that never cease to provide a unique show. This production, nonsense or not, takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of uncertainty, curiosity and ultimately laughter. With Hoipolloi, the limits of the imagination truly are sky high.

This production was reviewed by Philip Fisher at Watford Palace, Ray Brown at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and by Allison Vale at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff

Reviewer: V Mitchell