On The Razzle

Lichfield Garrick Rep and Lichfield Players

***

TOM Stoppard's farce is not the easiest play for a largely amateur cast to perform in this pro am collaboration between the Lichfield Garrick Rep and the Lichfield Players but they make a decent fist of it.

It has the usual ingredients of farce with mistaken identities, ridiculous situations arrived at by the most innocent of means and, in this case, the added difficulty of convoluted language and phrases which hardly flow like natural speech.

Farce is also about pace and timing and at times opening night was lagging a little behind although with first night in the can the cast can now settle down to find their own rhythm.

The tale is simple in that Zangler, who runs a posh grocers in an Austrian Village is both protecting his niece Maria (pro Lindsay Carr) from the attentions of Sonders (pro Tom McCarron) a penniless young man while he is also pursuing widow Madame Knorr (Jan Goodwin)who runs an up-market frock shop in Vienna.

Throw in a new servant Melchior (Michael Kelly) who knows best and shop assistants Weinberl and Christopher who are supposed to be minding the shop but have headed of to Vienna on the razzle “to acquire a past before it is too late” and all the ingredients are there ready to be mixed.

MONEY-MAD GROCER

Chris Stanley, apart from a few first night stumbles around his words, was excellent as Zangler, the pompous, money mad grocer who manages to mix metaphors and indeed words at will, constantly asking those around him what he actually means or is trying to say. It is a huge part and a feat of memory worth a round of applause on its own. His  self important Zangler manages the remarkable feat of deciding he is in charge of every situation without actually having a clue what is going on.

Also standing out are two of the pros, Darren Beaumont as the newly made partner in the Grocer's shop, Weinberl and the newly promoted senior sales assistant Christopher  played by Joe Morrow.

Promoting Weinberl to partner, Zangler calculates, is cheaper than paying him to run the shop while he spends time with Madame Knorr

The pair provide the slapstick and frantic element with excellent timing and a great sense of fun.

The play is based on an Austrian play from the 1842 and its first appearance in 1981 had Felicity Kendall as Christopher – continuing a Vienesse tradition of girls playing pretty boys.

The play also spawned The Matchmaker, a Thornton Wilder play from the 1930s and, less obvious, the musical Hello Dolly.  The character Dolly Gallagher Levi was missing from Stoppard's version which makes the link a little less easier to find.

The production, directed by pro Alice Bartlett and designed by pro John Brooking, uses a revolving stage with four basic sets which provides some amusing – and some slightly drawn out -  interludes for scene changes there are also some elements which leave you a touch baffled such as a panto horse and a pair of gorillas stalking the kitchen of a posh Viennese restaurant.

LINGUISTIC PARTY TRICKS

Stoppard relies heavily on word play and some of the puns and linguistic party tricks – some of the puns are painful by the way – seemed to get lost in delivery but perhaps confidence after a successful opening might improve that.

Meanwhile hats off to Lichfield Players stalwart Barry Aitcheson who took on the role of the Foreignerat 24 hours notice when the incumbent was forced to pull out.

Waving the will of a Sonders' deceased aunt which, by happy coincidence, also contained his words, Aitcheson carried off the role with aplomb with the audience completely in the dark as to the real drama on stage.

  The will, by the way made Sonders very rich and thus eligible to marry Marie.

Credit as well to Jane Gardner as Mrs Fischer, another widow who finds herself supposedly married to Winberl who claims she is his wife when he is in widow Knorr's frock shop where he has been hiding from Zangler, with Christopher, both disguised as a mannequins. Don't ask.

She was making her debut with the Players and a return to the stage after 15 year of teaching and bringing up her daughter. Some people thought she was one for the four pros in the show. Praise for her perfomance indeed.

With a bit more pace, a touch more insanity and a more aware delivery of the wealth of funny lines the razzle could dazzle.

The cast will be mistaking identities and confusing intentions until 16-04-11

Roger Clarke 

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