Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

I, Lear

Andrew Jones and Cairan Murtagh
Scamp Theatre
Trafalgar Studio 2
(2008)

Publicity photo

Premiered last year at Warwick and then seen on tour and on the Edinburgh Fringe, this is very much a light-hearted Fringe type show. In it the writer-performers impersonate two actor-laddies, one in a corduroy jacket and the other somewhat smarter with silk handkerchief and cravat: 'Huge' Hugh Carpenter and Chester 'Chesty' Blenheim. These old pros (not real-life Jones and Murtagh) have an extensive career of twice-nightly repertory performance behind them with memories and skills to match. The fact that when they both played in Pygmalion one of them played the Pig and the other played The Alien will give you some idea of their idea of the brand of humour. If it is not yours then perhaps you should give this one a miss, but they are an engaging couple and their London first night audience was giggling away the moment the lights went up, though for the first few minutes I couldn't see what at.

They present a potted history of British theatre that ranges from a Greek classic drama which ends with 'the Gods pissing in our faces' to a performance of King Lear which ends 'with the Gods pissing in our faces' too. On the way they take in works by Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, Anton Chekhov, Allan Bennett, Tennessee Williams and Bertolt Brecht, a Sherlock Holmes drama, Charles Dickens, Improvisation, a rendition of 'Memory' from Cats - and the opening moments turned out to have been a parody of Pinter, though whether that giggling audience were so bright they got the point when I didn't, or had just drunk more at the bar I can't be sure.

It's not an account of British theatre that any theatre historian would recognize for it is not so much a series of clever parodies of various playwrights as a send up of what an audience who doesn't actually know the work thinks they are like, so there is a sort of double joke going on. There are some bits of silliness that do go on too long, like Lear's Fool's crazy capering, but director Cal McCrystal seems to have kept a check on self-indulgence: the fondling of a bared nipple in a send-up of Orpheus Descending gets just the right number of exposures. A north-country pastiche of Talking Heads by Allan (Gordon) Bennett is probably the closest to its original, a Three Sisters too far off beam to be funny, but I liked the way some business in Lear echoed Allan Bennett and loved their Lloyd-Webber.

These performers are a couple of actors, not stand-ups, but their show may appeal more to people who go to see 'Comedy' rather than regulars at the National Theatre - though there is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy both.

Until 16th August 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton