Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Oli Thicknesse 8 March 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Mumford Theatre, Wed 6th – Sat 9th ,7.45pm

Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has everything that a Broadway lover could ever want: mistaken identities, disguises, reunions, elaborate chase scenes, amusing (if outdated) gender stereotypes and a handful of cracking tunes. True, this may be one of his less well known works and isn’t filled with the same quality of song-writing as one might find in Company or Sweeney Todd, but I still walked away last night humming several of the numbers extremely loudly.

Above all, the musical is a farce, and what a farce needs is energy. For this reason, therefore, Andrew Room (Pseudolos) was a revelation. As the central figure of the entire musical, he had that most admirable of abilities to let the audience know that the show was in safe hands from the off: ‘Comedy Tonight’ highlighted his confidence and command immediately. The mixture of playful comic acting, complete with gurning and a wonderful sense of timing, and a solid vocal range (as shown in ‘Free’ and ‘Lovely’) added all the energy that the production needed.

His supporting cast were just as impressive; for one, the level of vocal talent among them was never in doubt. Georgina Skinner (Philia) brought across the naivety of her character extremely well, and it was a pity that Sondheim’s somewhat limited score didn’t allow her to show off the voice she obviously has, something proved in ‘Lovely’ and ‘That’ll Show Him’. Robert Brocklehurst (Hysterium) was mincing perfection, while Dylan Morris’s bombastic performance as Miles Gloriosus (complete with silly walk) gave much to the energy and farcical nature of the show. The Proteans were also brilliant played in their variety of roles; never before has the delivery of “Ho there!” been so funny. Yet while Ed Green (Hero) had a lovely voice, his acting was wooden for much of the show.

There were, of course, a few faults; it wouldn’t be an opening night without them. I know the first half of the musical needs to set the plot up, but the pacing needs to be far snappier. Lines needed to be delivered far more quickly in the comic exchanges, which meant that the comic value was often left unfulfilled. If they speed up their delivery considerably, they will have a killer show on their hands.

At the same time, microphones wouldn’t have gone amiss: there was a big band and a big theatre so this should have been an easy decision to make. While the vocalswere excellent, it would  have been nice to have not lost the occasional few lines of a song. The band tackled a  tricky score well, generally giving a solid performance, while the choreography was spectacular in places.

If I had a few quibbles with the first half, I couldn’t fault the second in any way; it was superb, with constant movement and excellent pacing during the extended chase sequence. There was great singing, ready comedy and above all a palpable sense of fun: I implore you, blow away the exhaustion of week eight by going to see this comedy tonight.

Oli Thicknesse