Pants on Fire
Warehouse Theatre, Croydon
A village is under the thumb of its priest, living by a strict code because of some past sin, performing rituals where they hop up and down with sacks over their heads and a girl is put into a smoke box and has her hair cut off. What are we in for? A satire on religious fundamentalism? on the way dictatorships use religion to control? Is there a connection with the post-liberation shorn head treatment meted out to female collaborators or those who had German boyfriends during the occupation? Everyone is in a sort of folk dress, perhaps for this festivity - the programme says the time is the present but you can't help feeling that this is some sort of fairy story, especially when a chatty goodwife starts to tells us the back story of what happened three generations earlier.
It is a complicated story of a rape, a birth, a sense of shame, a murder and an execution and a ritual cleansing. The grander women (and some prostitutes named after venereal diseases) wear the panniered dresses of the time of Marie Antoinette so one must guess that the "then" is pre- Revolution and "now" after, though it doesn't really seem to matter; it's a fable. It ends up back in "now" and perhaps all in between is not set in the past but this is not exactly the clearest storytelling. At the first press performance several scenes were plunged into darkness - a technical problem I presume and one that seemed to affect the lighting plot thereafter, but it did not help the clarity of the presentation. Perhaps it all looks much more straightforward on the page but the emphasis in this production is on a succession of new images and styles which come helter-skelter.
There are broad caricatured examples of those guilty of the seven deadly sins that the fumidor is there to counteract but their barbs are general ones, not given specific twenty-first century targets. This is a general attack on intolerance and over-indulgence and a warning about the risks they bring but, though it clearly has a moral purpose, it is even more determined to have fun.
Whether it is the robotics of the opening number, the cunning presentation of a baby in a bassinette, the puppets with human heads that give us schoolroom children or the hilarious balletic routine for changing soiled bed linen and undergarments in the sequence that represents sloth, the presentation is exuberantly imaginative. Some scenes on film aren't quite so imaginative, they involve a hanging and a guillotining so they are probably there to avoid technical complexities on stage, but I am getting a little fed up with the current fashion for inserting second-rate video passages instead of finding a theatrical solution.
This is a show that is enjoyable for the energy and directness of its playing. There are 26 named characters and only eight in the cast so they are kept pretty busy. I particularly linked Heather Winstanley's Granny and Stephanie McGregor's baby Grace and Lady Snoozemeister but this is really a team show and their casting is more easy to identify than some of Tom Dunlea, Gillian Mackie, Lewis Matthews Sally Macdonald and Raymi Rennee's roles. If Peter Bramley was sometimes a little over the top in his own production I am sure it was entirely intentional. It is that sort of show.
"The Fumidor" runs at the Warehouse Theatre until 20th November 2011.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton