Writer: George and Weedon Grossmith
Director: Mary Franklin
Reviewer: Jon Wainwright
It’s certainly unusual, if not a theatrical first, for the appearance of mustard and cress to earn a warm round of applause. We’re pleased for Charles Pooter, we really are. He records in his diary that they were planted onApril 9th(a day on which he “went to bed at nine”). Two days later (“a day of annoyances”), and periodically thereafter, he revisits the window box, and each time it’s the same, sad story: “not come up yet.” Since these herbs are among the easiest to grow, their reluctance to sprout could seem like wilful defiance, if he were superstitious (which he isn’t). It’s one thing the world being against a man. There’s no shame in that – the world is a big place. Butcress?
This superb production illuminates the comic paradox at the heart of George and Weedon Grossmith’s classic: how to make the minuscule monumental, and monumentally hilarious, at the same time recognizing that nothing matters all that much, and certainly not the contents of the diary of a nobody.
Charles Pooter is that self-declared nobody, a character who is always withdrawing, deferring, coping with his own insignificance. Pooter is played by Jake Curran, a tall actor who can hardly help being the centre of attention. One self-effacing gesture he uses is to bend at the knees, as if he’s apologizing for his great height and doing his best to diminish his presence. Casting Jordan Mallory-Skinner as Carrie Pooter supplies another kind of visual comedy.
For the most part, both husband and wife are on their best behaviour, exemplary in their correct Victorian deportment except when they cackle uncontrollably at his punning. When she observes how the “fronts and cuffs are much frayed” he replies, without a moment’s hesitation: “I’m’fraidthey arefrayed.” He writes: “I thought we should never stop laughing.”
The audience is buttered up for silliness from the outset. In a surreal touch, the actors are standing sentinel underneath identical lampshades as the audience enters. Throughout the performance, they return to their stations to take turns delivering diary entries. This is one of the many ways in which the humorous mood is established: the comic timing is impeccable, the silences are awkward, the asides to the audience are sincere, the sound effects are funny, and there are running gags, such as the posting of letters through a free-floating letterbox carried by the actor doing the posting.
Mary Franklin takes the credit for directing and for adapting the original for the stage, and Carin Nakanishi is responsible for creating a fabulous monochrome set and costumes (with illustrations by Carly Hounsell). While Weedon Grossmith’s drawings are predominantly black ink, the design principle for this production is: start with a white canvas and trace outlines in black to create an amazing cartoonish effect. Even Pooter’s tie and trousers get the treatment (and while the side stripe is rather formal, like a uniform, the black line around his flies blows a perfect raspberry to Victorian prudery).
In the spirit of the two brothers working to bring text and illustrations together, Rough Haired Pointer theatre company succeeds in combining a multiplicity of talents to create a very singular piece of theatre. The cast take on thirty-one characters (their achievement all the more impressive for being an actor down on press night) and conjure up a colourful entertainment in black and white. As Pooter reminds his low-spirited son, Lupin: “behind the clouds the sun is shining.”
Runs until21st June