What’s in a Name – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Reviewer: James Garrington

Writers: Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre De La Patellière

Adaptor and Director: Jeremy Sams

Does it really matter what names we give to our children? Are there some names that, for whatever reason, are simply not acceptable?

Peter and Elizabeth are married, living in Peckham with their two children. He is a university lecturer, she is a teacher – and tonight they are holding a small get-together with Carl, an old friend, and Elizabeth’s brother Vincent and his partner Anna, who are about to become parents for the first time. While they are waiting for Anna to arrive Vincent announces the name they have chosen for their child – and the surprising choice plunges the group into a heated argument. Long-held resentments and old feelings resurface creating an extremely funny comedy as the evening descends into chaos.

What’s in a Name has been translated and adapted from the award-winning French comedy Le Prénom and has lost none of its humour in the process. Rather than opting for a straight translation, translator and adaptor Jeremy Sams has chosen to relocate the action to London and redraw the characters to create something more recognisable to a British audience – and it works extremely well. The joy of the piece is not only in its sharp and witty dialogue – though there’s plenty of that – but also in the characters. These are people we instantly recognise, we may even feel we know them from our own friends and acquaintances. In some ways it feels like an Ayckbourn play, the humour coming from people’s behaviour, their reactions and their readily identifiable characters.

Peter (Bo Poraj) is a classic example of a university lecturer, complete with cardigan and shelves packed with French books. It comes as no surprise to discover his political views and his choice of newspaper, and while the names he and Elizabeth have given to their own children may raise an eyebrow and a snigger, they are somehow not surprising either. Emma Carter’s Elizabeth is, on the surface less vociferous in her opposition than Peter – but she has been left to get the dinner and deal with the children while the conversation often happens without her, and so her explosion, when it comes, seems inevitable and is a joy to behold.

Joe Thomas’s Vincent is the opposite, a successful Estate Agent despite low academic achievement, flaunting his wealth and taking delight in winding people up with his particular brand of poor taste humour. You can’t help but wonder what exactly Anna (Louise Marwood) sees in him. Sitting between them all is Carl (Alex Gaumond), insignificant and non-committal, trying to avoid being drawn into the discussions until he drops his own bombshell.

The single set by Francis o’Connor sets the scene precisely. The laden bookcases, the cluttered kitchen just visible, the family portrait, the chairs – it’s everything you’d expect to find in a normal house. You can see there has been great attention to detail throughout from the writing through to the performances. It’s a classic situation and observational comedy, created on the stage with skill, and made to seem very natural.

Extremely funny and highly recommended.

Runs until 14 March 2020

Wickedly Funny

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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