Devised by the company
Hijinx / Spymonkey
Seligman Theatre, Chapter, Cardiff
Cardiff's Hijinx has made a point of integrating performers with learning disabilities into its productions—not merely as a box-ticking exercise, but as an ethical / aesthetic choice. Hence the pointedly hilarious puppet show, Meet Fred, which managed to be all about disability without once mentioning disability; and most recently, Of Mice And Men, in which Lenny was poignantly played by an actor affected by autism.
There is no such serious intent, at least in terms of representation, in their new piece, a collaboration with Sussex-based physical comedy specialists Spymonkey. The Flop is, quite literally, the stuff of French farce.
The plot, such as it is, is inspired by the case of the Marquis de Langey, who, in mid-17th century France, was sued by his wife's family because, apparently due to impotency, he had failed to impregnate her. He was thus subjected to trial by congress—pressured to prove, under legal scrutiny, that he was physically able to fulfil his intimate marital duties.
The show takes the form of a fourth-wall-breaking pantomime, presented by six buffoonish players, working with minimal props and extravagant costumes, in front of a large wooden panel which incorporates a number of frequently utilised doors and windows. It becomes clear very soon that the humour will be broad and unsubtle, with many anachronisms and numerous Pythonesque references to the show's artificiality.
The hapless Marquis is played by the deadpan Iain Gibbons, with Jess Mabel Jones appealing as Marie, his naive (but somehow knowing) child-bride. The rest of the ensemble is led by the versatile Hannah McPake as both Marie's aunt and the judge trying their case. Ted Lishman plays Marie's grandfather, who hasn't received the directorial note about not doing the accent; Jonathan Pugh is the Marquis's faithful but not entirely reliable valet; and Adam C Webb is the Chef and Court Warden—he also impresses on tuba and supplies some surreal monologues.
The tone of the piece, as directed by Ben Petitt-Wade, is shambolic, mostly intentionally so (a few fluffs add to the jollity), but there is much stagecraft on display, with a couple of imaginatively mounted dream sequences and the kind of clever word-play which one would not normally expect from a devised piece.
The songs (composer Spymonkey's Toby Park and musical director Dan McGowan) are witty, with instruments played by members of the ensemble. And on press night, sign language interpreter Sami Thorpe was amusingly included in the fun (I now know the BSL for “vagina”, which may come in useful one day).
A few serious points are facetiously sneaked in—the invasiveness of the patriarchy, the ownership of women's bodies, the mercenary nature of marriage—but on the whole, The Flop trades, very pleasingly, in old-fashioned bawdiness.
Following the brief Cardiff run, The Flop will play the Edinburgh Fringe, prior to a nationwide tour. Running at just over an hour, it is recommended for older, but not necessarily mature audiences.