ComedyDramaReviewSouth West

Parlour Games – Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Devised by the company from Sharp Teeth and The Wardrobe Theatre

Directed by: Steph Kempson & Andy Kelly

Reviewer: Leah Tozer

God Save the (drag) Queen: part drawing-room comedy, part clowning, and part drag, Parlour Games is a most unconservative portrait of the Victorians. With a grande dame, a Deutsche clown prince, and any delusions of grandeur doused with playful cross-dressing, it’s a comic delight with a melodramatic crown.

From Sharp Teeth – and with even sharper wits – the show bites into the beliefs one has about Victoria and Albert and clothes the bare bones in cabaret, biting wit, and an unbelievably bad wig. Playing parlour games while political revolution rages in England, Victoria and her Prince Consort wait out the people’s anger with their pathetic, piano-playing servant – the wondrously droll and overworked Andy Kelly – as the past, overprotective ghosts, and their courtship appear in a series of raucous vignettes.

With revolution reigning overseas and Chartists threatening the English throne, imagining our political parallels with the past is easy, and with the royals partying to pop princesses as well as period piano there’s a charming – if farcical – familiarity to the pickle Victoria is in. Yet, as the Prince valiantly attempts to use the parlour games to teach Victoria a Chartist’s lesson in losing, it’s a lesson lost on her: why would the victor – or Victoria – ever want to change the game?

The drag and cross-dressing – with Peter Baker the volatile Victorian grande dame and Lucy Harrington delightful as her diminutive Deutsche-man – is a witty, imaginative, and wildly original way to change the game, and it works but doesn’t always win against its own ridiculousness.

While revelling in frivolity, the performance is cleverly crafted and accomplished, with Andy Kelly’s comic piano accompaniment, acoustics and effects from Jack Drewery, and some atmospheric lighting from Chris Collier transforming the intimate Wardrobe Theatre into a Victorian parlour. And, even when a petticoat goes rogue, the company play it off as a game-changer for the uptight monarch, and it’s a genius – even if improvised and very un-Victorian – moment.

Parlour Games is the ‘right royal romp’ we’re promised, with great performances, political analogies, and an epic game of royal wits: unlike Victoria, we are very much amused.

Reviewed on 26th September 2018 | Image: Daisy Tian Dai

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