Hen and Chickens Theatre, London – until 18 March 2017
Guest reviewer: Laura Thomas
The London premiere of an overlooked gem from the back pages of the playbook of a genius; a Nobel winning, genre defining, mould breaking titan of 20th century drama. One was Nude & One Wore Tails is crafted and delivered with love by a close-knit and dedicated company. A collection of experienced and in demand actors, eschewing more lucrative opportunities to labour with verve and passion. There’s much to like and admire about this production.
An upper-class twit, naked save for his hat and wrist watch, flees from romantic disaster, and takes refuge in the rubbish bin of ‘Road-sweeper’ (Nicholas Bright, a bewildered innocent in the wild, wicked world). This simple parable compares the different states that exist within all societies, and the role that outward appearance plays.
Darren Ruston, is superb as ‘Naked Man’, a grotesque parody of an aging lothario, the physical comedy is confident and well executed, and his timing spot on; the work is not short of belly laughs.
Director Michael Ward, (with an uncredited cameo as ‘Accordion Man’), keeps the action moving at a cracking pace, and the production never sags. Pursued by ‘Patrolman’ (Brian Eastty), the pair are helped by ‘Man in Evening Dress’ (Jake Frances), before ‘Woman’ (Elena Clements, playing a stereotype with knowing irony) woos ‘Road-sweeper’, now dressed in the apparel of a gentleman, and we move through a series of comic tableaux.
The production is appropriately child-like in its delivery, and the company set and maintain an authentic absurdist style. The stage is set for the killer punch, the twist that will elevate the piece to another level. And yet, not. Somehow it is less than it considerable parts. Child-like becomes childish, as the piece resolves into sentimentality. There is no jeopardy, no darkness. Maybe it’s in the translation. Probably it’s in the writing.
Or maybe it’s the pervasion of Fo into the popular culture that makes this early work (dating from the 1950s) seem naïve. From Monty Python to the Muppets to the League of Gentlemen, the use of absurdity is well established in the mainstream as a satirical tool. The piece works well (and is enjoyable) as a slapstick farce, but never really transcends that.
Fo died last year after a long, controversial and hugely influential career. It should be every dramatist dream to be judged by the quality of those you upset, and he was banned by some of the worst.
But everyone’s entitled to an off day. So only 2.5 stars for the writing, but an extra star for the delivery and execution.
A nod to this excellent company, well worth seeking out. Chatting to them beforehand CTP was struck by the love and care that they were putting into this work, and the warmth of the bond between them, their shared mission to revive forgotten absurdist pieces. They wrung a thoroughly entertaining performance out the work.