Theatre Royal Stratford East, Nottingham Playhouse and Ramps on the Moon
Press night at Nottingham Playhouse for Village Idiot, a show commissioned by the theatre and co-produced with Ramps on the Moon, the consortium that celebrates the presence of deaf and disabled people both on and off stage. At the end of the performance, several of the audience commented: what on earth have we just seen?
It wasn’t that Village Idiot is bad—it’s a hilarious, joyful, hope-inducing night at the theatre. Maybe it’s because neurodivergent writer Samson Hawkins’s debut work is difficult to pigeonhole: among the f-bombs and c-bombs, naturalistic language and rude jokes is a play with songs that includes cabaret, a village fair and magic. Oh, and not forgetting the meat raffle. Unfortunately I didn’t win the meat or the vegetarian alternative, two cans of Strongbow.
Village Idiot is the first original play staged by Ramps on the Moon. It is set in the south Northamptonshire village of Syresham which is about to be ripped apart with the arrival of HS2.
It will go right through Barbara Honeybone’s house although she “ent having none of it” despite there being a compulsory purchase order on her property.
But butcher Kevin has sold up, taking HS2’s money so that he can go to Thailand with his Thai bride. He expects his daughter Debbie will go with him—but she wants to stay in England and make a new life with her boyfriend Harry.
Harry’s brother Peter, who now works for HS2 and has the unenviable job of trying to persuade the people of Syresham to move, adds to the tension. Will they pull together to overcome the townies or will they head off for a new life in Milton Keynes or Banbury?
The cast of six in Village Idiot all give spectacular performances, none more so than the couple playing sweethearts Debbie and Harry. Faye Wiggan is charming and imperturbable as the young woman who defies her father to live her life the way she wants, while Maximilian Fairley shines as the easily upset young man who comes into his own when hosting the annual village show.
Mark Benton is the biggest name in the cast but as Kevin he does not dominate the stage, allowing others to take the limelight and enjoying the production he has referred to as “bonkers”.
Eileen Nicholas is delightful as Barbara, the politically incorrect heroine of the play who has some of the funniest lines as you are never in doubt about her feelings or philosophy.
Philip Labey catches the eye as Peter, on the surface an amiable, successful businessman but underneath a despicable character who will betray his friends in the name of progress. Labey also gives us a memorable depiction of a scantily clad Cher during the village show.
Joseph Langdon gains empathy from the audience as Liam, the young man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality whose loyalty is unmatched.
Nadia Fall, artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East which will stage Village Idiot in April, directs with assuredness and flair, getting the most out of her cast.
The Syresham Times, the newspaper-style programme that accompanies the production, reveals that Village Idiot is the final Ramps on the Moon project. That’s because a partnership of six theatres which form Ramps is drawing to a close. Let’s hope something takes its place. Theatre would be a sadder place without it.
Reviewer: Steve Orme