Mark Thomson, The Lyceum’s Artistic Director, often talks before his shows of the need for theatre, and The Lyceum in particular, to entertain.
Now, entertainment comes in many forms. I’d list The Shining, Apocalypse Now and Hunger among my favourite and most entertaining movies but they are not everyone’s cup of tea; nor are they uplifting. My wife wouldn’t have described Hunger as entertaining, that’s for sure. So the notion of entertainment is open to considerable interpretation.
But let’s get this straight from the off; Irma Vep is PURE entertainment.
I laughed until I broke out into a sweat.
I cried and howled with laughter.
I gasped with laughter.
This show is utter class from the first, and I mean the first, moment the curtain rises and we see Andy Gray as he walks onto stage sporting a fake wooden leg and the limitations that places on straightforward movement. John Cleese would have applauded loudly.
This sets the scene for farce of epic proportions. Not Pythonesque though. It’s more in the tradition of Scots Panto. There are many nods in the direction of Russel Hunter, Walter Carr, John Grieve (is he related to the director I wonder, indeed assume) Francie and Josie and, king of them all, Stanley Baxter. Which is to heap a great deal of praise on the heads of the quite astonishing performances (in terms of characterisation, timing, energy and wit) of Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll.
Honestly, they will have you rolling in the aisles.
As I said, Panto, and slapstick, is the predominant genre here, although the show’s story is actually a pastiche of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca with a bunch of Hammer House of Horror thrown in for good measure.
I cannot imagine what the script must have read like because it is SO Scottish, so ‘of the people’ and so personal to Gray and McNicoll that you wonder what was on the page.
Each of them plays about four parts but they interchange through very quick changes from scene to scene all night and at times it is breathless and, as a consequence, even more hilarious.
McNicoll’s Jane Twisden is possibly the dominant role (the evil maid in Rebecca) played like the tea lady in Father Ted at maximum volume throughout. It’s so beautifully crafted and voiced that it leaves you gasping again and again.
Gray’s best moments are in his Lady Enid Hillcrest character which moulds Stanley Baxter and Mark Walliams into an unholy combination.
But seriously, there is not a single moment of weakness in any of the characters they play.
The direction by Ian Grieve is faultless and the wonderful set is a key part of the show with its myriad of doorways from where every character appearance and disappearance heralding yet another belly laugh each time they appear. It’s ingenious.
I cannot praise this show highly enough.
OK it’s got an odd name but don’t let that put you off. (It’s an anagram of I’m a Perv by the way!)
Go. Go now. No, now. Don’t think about it. Just go. No, do. Do it. Do it now. Go do it. Go on. Go on, go on, go on. Now. That’s it. Get down there. Now. Yes, now. Go on now.