ReviewSouth East

The Famous Four and a Half go Wild in Thetford Forest – Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich

Reviewer: Michael Gray

Writer: Harry Long

Director:  Ivan Cutting

Enid Blyton’s iconic characters – children from a bygone age, before Health, Safety and Electronics – have been commandeered by countless parodists since they first appeared in print in 1942. They are evoked again this Christmas in Harry Long’s inventive comedy for Eastern Angles.

Two and half hours packed with madcap antics, time travel, and close harmony, leavened with a little topical satire and interrupted for mulled wine and mince pies.

Like most of these classic adventures, the setting is rural. And like the best of Eastern Angles’ output, this one is firmly rooted in the region, in this case in “mysterious and exciting” Thetford Forest. And who knew it was such a significant location historically!

Ivan Cutting’s fast-paced production keeps the action moving; sometimes the jokes and the references seem hardly to have time to breathe. And the five young actors work incredibly hard, with costume changes galore, choreography, audience baiting and musical numbers as well as some fine OTT acting. From prehistory (a lovely dinosaur) to 2040 (Thetford-on-Sea) through Grimes Graves,  the Stoned Age, Boudicca, Thomas Paine and much, much more.

Emma Tompkins’ designs include a stylised forest, a flint castle which becomes the Mad Inventor’s workshop, and, tantalisingly as we walk in, a state-of-the-art go-kart. The countless costumes are colourful and pleasingly detailed – the CND badge for Alex, the mortar-board for Mr Dullas the history teacher who sets the whole plot in motion.

The audience are all placed in his detention – hands on heads – and we also get to bust a few Bhangra moves; a nice panto moment when some keen youngsters are invited to come on down and show us how it’s done.

Charles Barnett – in his first professional theatre tour – has a ball as Dullas, bonkers Aunty Wingnut and many more. He’s also granted a stand-up slot after the interval, affectionately evoking a chart-topping, traffic-jamming local boy who made millions. Delightfully dim Rupert is played by Edward Kaye, who also gives us Jimmy Perry, whose Home Guard historical epic finds fame as farce thanks to the Four and a Half. The half of the title is, of course, Dimmy the Dog…

Kandaka Moore is tomboy Alex, as well as an imposing Boudicca, while Lily Smith captures the period style perfectly as brainbox Fran. Private Pike, Duleep Singh, Thomas Paine, and fourth member Nick are played by an engagingly versatile Jason Patel.

They all play innumerable roles, and work splendidly as a team, as well as doing full justice to Dominic Conway’s score. Fielding a full band  – guitar, sax, bass and kazoo trumpet – for Fiddle with Time, and demonstrating the power of backing vocals for the final love duet between the Dark Shadowy Figure and the Casting Director.

There is so much to relish in this script, not least the references to dramatic licence, plot devices and the McGuffin, the snorkelling to Aldi, the Norfolk jokes, the opening packing-the-bags number, and the extended pop at Hamilton, with Thetford corsetier turned Poster Boy for the American Revolution resenting being overlooked for rap stardom – My Shot becomes I’m not giving him My Spot – in his blockbuster musical No Paine no Gaine …

Just occasionally the gags could have been given a little more help – the push-up joke went for nothing, the clever Victoria quip flashed by – but the Fore! Duck! sequence is priceless, and the overall effect is one of merry mayhem, hysterical history and exhilarating adventures in the East Anglian Breckland.

Tours until 05 January 2020 | Image: Mike Kwasniak

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Madcap time travel

The Reviews Hub - South East

The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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