Jamie Glover as Peter, Raymond Coulthard as Carl
and Nigel Harman as Vincent. Pictures: Robert Day
What’s in a name
EVERY so often a play comes along which
makes theatre a real joy, or perhaps in this case, a joie de vivre.
The year is still young but you will be hard
pushed to find a better comedy this year and probably next as well if it
comes to that.
At last we have a comedy that does not rely on
farce, slapstick, bizarre characters or contrived situations and jokes
to garner laughs.
No one is odd or eccentric, everyone keeps their
trousers on and we have a very normal situation, a wife and her husband
inviting her brother and his wife, and an old friend of 30 years, to a
It is so normal, and true to life, that any
married couple with a few years under their belts will feel at home
immediately. It's the little details, such as any husband knows that if
a vital item goes missing it is, by some unwritten male rule, the fault
of his wife, while any wife knows instinctively that a husband, by
definition, is incapable of dressing themselves in a co-ordinated or
Peter, played by Jamie Glover with a sort of
liberal, leftish tendency, a sort of political position left of the
Merlot, is a university professor of French while his wife Elizabeth,
played by Sarah Hadland, gave up her PhD studies to raise their two
children, son Apollinaire and daughter Gooseberry – please don’t ask,
the names will cause enough trouble later. She teaches French at a
nearby Free School.
Then we have Elizabeth’s brother Vincent, Nigel
Harman’s man about town, who is amusing, handsome, charming, and rich
having taken over his late father’s estate agency and turned it into a
trendy success story. A real life and soul sort of chap . . . except he
does have a penchant for winding people up for his own amusement – in
short, he is a bit of a loose cannon.
His wife Anna, Olivia Poulet, is heavily pregnant
and runs her own fashion business, arriving late after a business
meeting she lands in the middle of an already heated discussion amid the
meal and unwittingly fans the flames into a veritable inferno.
And trying hard to be neutral is Carl, played as a beautiful contrast by
Raymond Coultard. Carl is second trombonist with the BBC Symphony
orchestra, with, should we say, an artistic manner.
Jamie Glover as Peter, Sarah Hadland as Elizabeth and
Raymond Coulthard as Carl
As Vincent points out he is “a forty-year-old
bachelor, wears orange, likes Michael Bublé, and lived in San Francisco
for a year”. Enough said? But appearances can be, and in this case are,
deceptive, with some rather explosive consequences.
It all starts with the naming of Vincent’s soon
to be born son, hence the title, and in this case there is rather a lot
in the name, so much so that the relationships for the five protagonists
will never be the same again as home truths, long held grudges,
rivalries, and feelings explode.
Coultard, last seen at The Rep in The King’s
Speech, has a moving monologue but good as that might be, it is topped
by Sarah Hadland, known to TV audiences from Miranda, with an
emotionally charged speech full of bitterness, anger and despair drawing
on childhood, marriage and everything in-between which brought huge
applause - more from wives, perhaps, than from husbands, who evolution has
taught when it is safest to keep a low profile.
The best comedies are also dramas, where the
humour is a device to carry a story and the best and most telling humour
comes when it has a ring of truth, with characters and situations that
are familiar, mundane even. We have all been to or hosted dinner
parties, we all know characters like the five we see; hey, we might even
be one. So it is a world we know.
This is a play that ticks every box you can think
of and then some. It is witty, sophisticated, gloriously funny, at times
painfully so. Take out the laughs, and there are a lot of them, and you
would still have a telling drama – parlour games rather than kitchen
sink – but drama nonetheless.
The cast are thoroughly convincing and quite
brilliant with spot on timing, telling glances and gestures directed
with a lovely, light touch by Jeremy Sams. Even the pauses are telling
in the right hands.
The entire action takes place in Peter and
Elizabeth’s apartment in Peckham in a clever and detailed design from
Francis O’Connor which gives us a kitchen off stage and stairs to a
The original French play Le Prénom, from 2010, by
Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière won a hatful of awards
as did the resulting film two years later, and after playing in almost
40 countries with more than 100 productions it is a mystery why it has
taken so long to appear in Britain.
Thankfully Sams, the director, who is also a
writer and translator, has adapted the play, which is quite beautifully
written, moving it from Paris to Peckham and Birmingham Rep along with
Just For Laughs Theatricals have brought the British premiere to the
stage. It is a theatrical treat it would be a crime to miss. To 11-02-17
The performance runs for approximately 95 minutes
without interval and does contain some four letter words