'Hamlet is pants in comparison'

Hannah Fair 21 October 2007

In his opening address, Tom Ovens as narrator audaciously claims to have bettered the Bard, with this The Tale of Lancelot Sebastian von Ludendorff. Ovens, (also writer and co-director), hasn’t yet scaled the heights of Shakespearean acclaim, but with this winning entry from the Pembroke Players New Writing Initiative has certainly shown himself to have much more up his well tailored sleeve than was apparent in previous Smokers.

Far from a chivalric romance, The Tale of Lancelot Sebastian von Ludendorff is a surreal yet whimsical fairy tale, peppered with love, adventure and attempted political insurrection. With a heavy dose of satirised Marxist dogma and cuddly toy giraffes, the comedy is superb. Ovens conjures a ridiculous yet marvellous world where the will to live can be found in a pot of earl grey. A tale of teddy bear hostages, ambitious teashop owners, murderous gorillas and perilous scones, Lancelot recounts the reckless intrigues of renegade ‘Dave o’ Hara’ and his attempt to establish a true Communist society, pixies and all.

Oven’s occasional interjections, as master story teller and amused observer, help the farcical plot run smoothly. It is mostly his lines, filled with extravagant word play and delivered with perfect timing, that are nearly seat-wettingly funny. He even manages to comically overcomes a moment of awkward, conspicuous door fumbling. The most admirable performance is that given by James Howe, who wonderfully doubles as the rustic, tyrannical and scatological ‘King Grundy’ and gung-ho revolutionary ‘Dave o’Hara’. He is also notably well supported by Laila Tims as the infantile and petulant prince, who convincingly combines childhood naivety with occasional obscenity.

Overall the script was suffused with boundless energy, capable of leaving the ADC audience cackling away. However the action was static at points; far less attention seems to have been paid to movement, physicality or visually based comedy than to the speech: indeed this would have made an impeccable radio play.

Such issues aside, this play demonstrates Oven’s great potential as a writer and director of the hilariously bizarre. A o’Hara says, “Scones can wait ‘til after the revolution”, but this can’t. Quirky, stylish, and sometimes just plain silly, The Tale of Lancelot Sebastian von Ludendorff is definitely worth venturing down into Pembroke Cellars for.

Hannah Fair