ComedyDramaNorth WestReview

All Above Board – Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight

Reviewer: Abbie Rippon

Writer: Nigel Planer

Director: Shan Chambers

Heading for an evening out at a local theatre, supporting new work is something all theatre fans should thrive to do. Nestled in the beautiful village of Port Sunlight, the Gladstone is one of those village theatres that one can’t help but be charmed by. It is no surprise that Nigel Planer and Northern Comedy Theatre chose to premiere the brand new All Above Board at this delightful theatre on the Wirral.

All Above Board, described as a ‘Classic British Farce’, gives the expectation of raucous comedy, endless slapstick, and physical humour, and witty wordplay to leave an audience breathless with laughter. Planer, whose impressive CV includes writing for The Young Ones (he’ll always be Neil to some) and Blackadder, incorporates occasional moments of well crafted and snappy repartee in All Above Board which raises more than a smile from the diminutive, but eager audience, the performance as a whole,  doesn’t, however,  live up to the expectation.

Following the story of Timothy Upton-Fell (played with lively energy by Robert Stuart-Hudson), the play follows his exploits and the scrapes he gets into attempting to reinvent himself from banker to philanthropist through a charity auction. With the help of Florence Spink his new PR (Kathryn Chambers), his upstairs Neighbours the aging artist Sir Ommany John and his wife Lady Claire John (played by Ray Sutton and Judith Martindale) and TV Personality Matthew Board (Connor Simkins), Timothy and the gang get into all of the stereotypical blunders one might expect from farce. Mistaken identity, lots of hiding in cupboards and the occasional bit of underwear on show.

Some of the story is quite cringy. We expect love intrigue from a farce however, one wonders if in 2021 an audience really wants to watch a gentleman of pensionable age attempting to grope young lady decades his junior. Especially when both actors, Sutton and Chambers, appear so uncomfortable at the moment of passion. They look too awkward to commit, the audience feel awkward watching. Is it not time for this outdated old storyline to be put to bed?

The performance lacks the physical humour you expect from a farce. With the exception of the last ten minutes, it’s pretty still and static considering it’s genre. The majority of the performance is one big cheat out to the audience, the characters interact through words but not actions. Having been rehearsed during a pandemic, one questions whether the actors really got comfortable with the closeness and physical contact needed to make a farce work? Did director Shaun Chambers miss opportunities in the rehearsal room to bring out the best in the cast and the text? Once can’t be sure but the blocking feels lazy, the staging lacks imagination so that at the times when the physical humour is brought out, it stands so stark and contrasting against the rest of the performance.

The cast of eight, unfortunately, have a diminutive audience to work with, and any theatre-goer will tell you that laughter is more prevalent in a packed theatre, it spreads like osmosis through a willing crowd. Stuart-Hudson as Timothy performed with fabulous energy and has real potential and Martindale’s Lady Claire had the poise and confidence which emulated her years of performance experience. But some stereotypes were not lived up to. Simkins as Matthew Board began well as the cocky TV personality, however, his demise into self-loathing is all too quick for the audience to find the humour in it. There are even a couple of toe-curling moments when it is clear that a cast member has blanked and had to be rescued, awkward pauses where one can see the cast trying to figure out whose line comes next. In an amateur production, this could be forgiven. However, at twenty pounds a ticket, an audience might not feel so forgiving.

The show does have potential. It is at the beginning of its run and there is room for improvement. More confidence, maybe a little redirection, and a couple of script edits might give it the oomph it needs to succeed on its northern tour. There is real humour there, but more work is needed to bring it out so that an audience isn’t left feeling underwhelmed and overcharged.

Runs until Wednesday 25th August then touring nationally

The Reviews Hub Score

Underwhelmed and overpriced

The Reviews Hub

The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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