I Told You So - A Musical Hijacking of Aesop's Fables
Bright Choice Productions at The Courtyard Theatre, King's Cross
It's really heart-warming to see a fringe theatre with a full house on a Tuesday evening in January. But, then, I Told You So is obviously the type of show to fill the graveyard slot of the theatrical calendar after all the wassailing, and to prolong the festive period. You can do two things at the beginning of January. You can feel guilty about all the mince pies and booze and join a gym, or you can go to see I Told You So and be reminded that the genuine message of Christmas is that life is for living and that humanity is about loving, caring, sharing and fun into the bargain.
The young playwright, James Finnemore, who has already been nominated for a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival, has a fine imagination and the discipline to cut his work down to the pith. He has a succinct wit and a nice line in parody. I particularly enjoyed the gospel-singing frogs ('We praise you Zeus. Thank you for our bog. It might not seem like much to you, but then you're not a frog. The word is frog the word is frog etc'). Really delicious stuff.
Aesop's Fables are intermingled and transformed into a tale of villainy with a simple plot, which, if you are left of New Labour, could be said to mirror some of our social issues, but packaged up in delightful and entertaining performance. The problem is that all the beasts of the forest are hungry, but Farmer Silas has locked away all his sheep behind barbed wire and the King of the Beasts, the lion, is rather dispossessed of his power in the face of the land magnate with all the cards in his hand. Now, whom might the Lion King remind me off in contemporary spheres of power? And Farmer Silas? Where is his (hemi)sphere of influence mirrored in the 'real' world?
But there are no overt allusions. I'm an unrepentant old lefty who could read politics into configurations of ant droppings. The nice thing about this show is that it's there if you want to see it, but it's also a traditional tale of hunger, greed and corruption transcended by solidarity, teamwork, collaboration, and, naturally there is a significant love interest. It's humanism at its best and very entertaining to boot.
Director Matt Applewhite has brought a multi-talented young cast together and they are superb. His direction is clear cut, and draws the best out of the performers. Unfortunately, a couple of the songs were a bit weary, the parody ineffective. But the performers give their all. What a wonderful cast! They all play multiple roles, with quick costume and character changes.
If I have to choose, my heart is lost to the Lion King even if his choppers are false. I adored the aristocratic fox: self-interest incarnate with tantalizing, if transparent, charisma (wouldn't we all like to be Machiavelli?), no I'm not going to do the lefty thing again and a voice that could move angels. And Crow, a smart, working-class girl that can get things fixed I can relate to that. But I'd like to know, Herbert yes, you, the bumpkin comic relief in a play that is already a comedy! When you marry your great love, Esmerelda, the combine harvester, you know, have you ever thought about procreation? I mean, isn't your thingy going to get threshed to pulp in the machinery of her love? Sorry about the personal question, but sometimes we get so involved with characters in a play we actually start wanting to know what happens to them after the lights have gone down.
But that only happens if the play is really engaging. And this one is!
Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher