Review: Banged Up!

Pippa Smith 11 November 2016

When I realised that my friend and I made up a third of the total audience for The Pembroke Players’ Banged Up! I was definitely uneasy. However, the (extremely) intimate setting this created for the production did nothing to hinder the energetic wit of Rufus McAlister, Ania Magliano-Wright and Ben Spiro, who sprang into their cleverly farcical narrative with laudable gusto.

Rufus’ writing was sharply comedic, peppered with topical references and with an overall endearing air of not taking itself too seriously. This was a comedic tone pitched perfectly to fit in with the evidently low-budget, somewhat improvised set and props. In fact, there was a conscious artlessness to much of the production which only added to its hilarity. For example, the rocket Stella (Ania) sent to the moon to give Neil Armstrong a care package was represented by a childishly decorated plastic bottle which Ben swept dramatically across the back of the stage (a moment which I particularly enjoyed for its sheer ridiculousness).

If you think that sounds like an odd plot development be prepared for one of the most ludicrous and yet delightfully silly narratives likely to grace the Cambridge theatre scene. All three actors were well-rehearsed and the fast-paced chopping of scenes, although at first a little disorientating, quickly settled into an easy rhythm with vividly portrayed, comedic multi-role. Some of the caricatures were a little stereotypical, but this is not a production which is trying to offer nuanced character development: it is just trying to make us laugh, and in this it undoubtedly succeeds.

The dynamic physical and vocal performances of Ben, Ania and Rufus, coupled with amusing moments of metatheatricality, served to invite the audience into the eccentric and farcical world of the play. In fact, we literally became a part of the performance. My friend was dragged into the narrative of the play several times with the same impressively funny continuity as was employed with many other jokes which were cleverly repeated with mounting irony as the play progressed.

The lighting, like the set, was simple but apt and the cast coped well with a slight technical malfunction, turning it into a moment of humour in the same manner as they repeatedly made light of their distinct lack of spectators. For what could have been a desperately awkward hour of theatre, this production worked perfectly with a small audience and where I might have been too self-conscious to laugh, I found the informal atmosphere and the genuinely very humourous writing and performance had me cackling along with the sound technician and front of house team. I applaud Ania, Rufus and Ben for an hour of intricately designed and expertly executed comedy. The production was a relaxed, enjoyable end to a dull Thursday and I encourage people to go and see it. The performers would only thrive off a larger audience and it would definitely be a shame if such a genuinely funny piece of theatre were to go by without the viewership that the enthusiasm and skill of the team behind it deserves.