Writer: Phil Porter
Director: Janice Honeyman
Reviewer: James Garrington
Loud-mouth General Braggadocio is convinced that he is one of the most popular men in Rome – especially with the women. His three servants – Feclus, Omnivorous and Dexter – all hate and despise him. Braggadocio has kidnapped Voluptua, Dexter’s former mistress, and is keeping her as a concubine but she longs to escape to be with her lover Valentin who has moved in next door. Dexter is happy to help and get herself out in the process – and she has a plan. Vice Versa is based on the Roman comedies of Plautus, and in typical Roman comedy style, Dexter’s plan is far from simple.
These are stereotypical characters that we’ve all met before – and if you’ve seen Up Pompeii!, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or any of the other pieces based on plays of this period you will know them well. This is a wonderfully funny and at the same time very clever script. Writer Phil Porter not only recognises these stereotypes but positively embraces them as he milks them for all they’re worth, squeezing out every drop of humour he can find in them – even to the extent of other characters discussing the stereotypical behaviour they’re witnessing.
Central to the piece is Dexter (Sophia Nomvete), the cunning servant who is left to do the thinking for all of them. coming up with a deception that relies on so many coincidences that it seems inconceivable that anyone would go along with it – yet, as she remarks, it’s “strangely believable”. Dexter fulfils the twin roles of servant and narrator, and Nomvete does a fine job on the whole, not only breaking the fourth wall but crashing through it with gay abandon. Occasionally, some of her dialogue becomes a little unclear but that aside she carries the plot forward well.
Surrounding Nomvete is a strong ensemble cast. Felix Hayes is a suitably pompous, self-centred and slightly thick Braggadocio. There is good physical comedy from Steven Kynman and Byron Mondahl as his servants Feclus and Omnivorous, whose characters both live up to their names. Ellie Beaven is also in good form as Voluptua and her imaginary twin sister Drusilla, displaying a beautifully over-the-top accent as she tries to convince Braggadocio that she is Greek in her attempt to escape to be with dim-witted but besotted lover Valentin (Geoffrey Lumb). Kim Hartman is nicely gross as a very faded, tattooed and pregnant prostitute (Climax) and Nicholas Day gives good support as neighbour Philoproximus.
Vice Versa has music and songs written by Sam Kenyon which, like the play, are shallow but extremely catchy, and a simple but effective set designed by Colin Richmond. Although the basic premise is an old one – over 2000 years in fact – and Vice Versa is set in the period, the play has brought the concept up to date with some very modern references, including echoes of Donald Trump cropping up on more than one occasion.
With a plot revolving around ridiculous disguise and deception, Vice Versa is a madcap farce bordering on pantomime with the wickedly funny script beautifully enhanced by some clever and often totally off-the-wall details added by director Janice Honeyman. In fact, there are so many little touches that many of them may well pass by unnoticed.
Vice Versa may well not be to everyone’s taste, but if this is your thing then look no further.
Runs until 9 September 2017 | Image: Pete Le May