Writers:F. C. Burnand, Chris Monks
Composers:Sir Arthur Sullivan, Richard Atkinson
Musical Director:Mark Gordon
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Chris Monks and his musical associate, Richard Atkinson, are known for combining a love for, and deep knowledge of, Gilbert and Sullivan with great skill in subverting and transforming their operas; The Mikado set in Titipu Cricket Club springs immediately to mind! Last summer they went further in providing their own follow-up to Sullivan and Burnand’s Cox &Box. This production now returns with a mostly new cast.
Cox &Box is just as topsy-turvy as anything by Gilbert, so Monks and Atkinson decide to add a few more twists. Sergeant Bouncer lets out a room to both Cox, a hatter who works by day, and Box, a printer who works at night. Each young man is ignorant of the other and, when they meet, initial squabbling turns to amazement at the unlikely links between them.
Monks makes sure that absurdity rules. He transforms the landlord into a landlady, then casts a man in the part – naturally, as the two young men are played by females! Finally, having made sure we can’t believe in the characters, he adopts an over-the-top acting style that serves as a broader parody of the Victorian manners being satirised. With the aid of some splendidly physical acting – the choreography of Kraig Thornber and Beverley Norris-Edmunds is deliciously witty across both plays – it works.
Lara Stubbs, the only returning cast member, is delightfully vain and filled with a puppyish dignity as Cox. Emilia Williams (Box) takes a little while to find the level – is the whole thing a fraction broader than last year? – but is soon half of a bouncily bumptious double act as well as displaying a fine singing voice. Darren Southworth puts over his big numbers very well, plays up the grotesque effectively, but would benefit from a touch more sly wit.
Mrs. Bouncer’s Legacy pays an odd sort of tribute to Burnand and Sullivan. The plot, set in the same room some 150 years later, is like nothing Burnand would have concocted, the songs are not in Sullivan’s style, but Monks and Atkinson cunningly sneak in Sullivan-esque references in the accompaniments and an identification scene as improbable as anything Burnand or Gilbert ever contrived.
In the near future the United Kingdom has left the European Union and is expelling foreigners. The two in a room are two female Polish twins, Urszula a veterinarian with crazy chickens and an astonishing ability to speak Yorkshire, and Krystyna a boxer who can only develop her career by taking on the tough women of Barnsley! Bob Narks, the xenophobic landlord, is only aware of Urszula whom he lusts after in Rigsby-ish fashion, secure in the belief that she comes from Huddersfield, not Warsaw.
Lara Stubbs and Emilia Williams are perfectly matched as the twins and very funny in mining the humour in well-placed old Yorkshire gags. Bob Narks is a character that teeters on the brink of being too gross to laugh at, but Darren Southworth keeps on the right side and has great fun with the best song, a paean to the beauties of Yorkshire.
Mark Gordon accompanies with energy and skill and the design team of Tim Meacock, Tigger Johnson and Paul Stear make sure that the set and the effects get their share of the laughs.
Runs Until: 30th May