Peter and Vincent

Jamie Glover as Peter, Raymond Coulthard as Carl and Nigel Harman as Vincent. Pictures: Robert Day

What’s in a name?

Birmingham Rep

*****

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 dinner party.

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 appropriate manner.

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 Moroccan peter, elizbeth and carlthemed 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 bedroom landing

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

Roger Clarke

31-01-17

The performance runs for approximately 95 minutes without interval and does contain some four letter words

Just for Laughs Theatricals

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