Thursday, April 04, 2013

'Mr Whatnot' by Alan Ayckbourn

4 April 2013

I’ve always loved comedy dancing – providing it is done with straight-faced seriousness like Laurel and Hardy in ‘Way Out West’ – and there was some great serious comedy dancing in the Northampton Royal and Derngate production of ‘Mr Whatnot’ by Alan Ayckbourn which we saw on Wednesday. Ayckbourn is known for his realistic dialogue and characters but this very early work (this production marks its 50th anniversary) displays neither of these traits. ‘Mr Whatnot’ is a celebration of mime and comic caricature – and it was laugh-out-loud funny. The Northampton production is directed by Cal McCrystal who was Physical Comedy Director for the National Theatre production of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ (reviewed here in October 2011) and has previously worked with the marvellous Spymonkey (reviewed here in February 2012). He has created a wonderful combination of physical theatre, mime, dance and slapstick which is charmingly silly. ‘Mr Whatnot’ is a stage cousin of the silent film comedy genre with a character at its heart that could have been played by Buster Keaton or Norman Wisdom. Though there is some dialogue, most of the action is conveyed by mime, involving perfect co-ordination with an extensive range of sound effects. The speechless hero (played here by Juanma Rodriguez) is a loveable chancer with a twinkle in his eye and a strong sense of mischief. There is very little plot, some remarkably over-the-top acting and it’s all terribly childish, but on Wednesday it had a packed audience laughing uncontrollably all the way through. ‘Mr Whatnot’ is not what we have come to think of as an Alan Ayckbourn play but this production was great fun.

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