Review: L’Escargot

Harry Parker 12 February 2015

From the oddly romantic heights of the Eiffel Tower to the back room of a seedy club, the student-written L'Escargot never fails to amuse. At its heart a situational comedy written by the two actors themselves, the play throws together two very different men, adds a plane delay, and sets them loose in Paris.

With a simple set of three chairs and a collection of auxiliary props, the play comes to life not through its appearance but through the sheer dynamism of its two leading actors, the stunningly talented Douglas Tawn and Charlie James Robb. Both use the intimate space of the Corpus Playroom to full effect, at times engaging directly with us audience members, extending the stage and, in doing so, pulling us headlong into their misadventures.

Both actors, through hilariously contrasting styles, feed off each other’s energy from the very start. Robb, as the initially reserved management consultant, provides the necessary ballast to Tawn’s infectiously awkward scout leader. While both created believable personas, a special mention must go to Tawn, who successfully crafted a character at once intensely idiosyncratic and yet remarkably relatable. When constructing characters, it is possible to go too far in the direction of eccentricity, effectively alienating the audience if the character is simply too strange to be believed. But Tawn’s boisterous boy scout possesses a charming innocence that bubbles up from his oddity: the pleasantly surprising result is that the stranger he gets, the more likeable he becomes.   

Some of the strongest moments in the play are in the interaction of these two characters in the first section especially, when they act together in their original personas. As this is a two-man play with a winding plot, the actors necessarily take on other personas to provide additional situations for the two main characters, which is both immensely hilarious but slightly confusing. These switches are simple at first, but become increasingly complex and rapid as the show continues, which can be challenging to keep up with. That being said, these additional mini-characters also serve a vital purpose, allowing the main characters to develop in a variety of scenes where they are, in the plot, physically separated from one another.

While the comedic elements of the play are often spot on, there are a few situations in which the humour is not always successful in achieving its stated purpose. According to the Corpus Playroom’s synopsis, L’Escargot promises to provide “a long hard look at cultural stereotypes.” And yet, I found that instead of questioning or satirising these stereotypes, the play in some instances exploits them to induce laughs, which is not, it seems, what L’Escargot set out to do.  

However, I believe the play did succeed phenomenally in the brief but moving scenes where humour was absent and the deepest fears and internal conflicts of the two characters are laid bare. The humour of the play beautifully brackets these moments, providing a lens under which such diverse topics as sexuality, unemployment, and marital infidelity come into sharper focus. This, more than the re-evaluation of cultural stereotypes, is where the play comes into its own, to stunning effect.

Even with its weaker points, L’Escargot is still a marvellously funny piece of student writing, and is executed by two brilliant actors. Sweetening difficult topics with excellent humour, the show raises some important questions. If you want to laugh the night away while also pondering deeper themes, this is the show for you.

8/10

 

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L'Escargot is on at the Corpus Playroon, 9.30pm, until Saturday. Get your tickets here