Review: Me, As a Penguin

Johann Kamper 14 November 2012

Me, As a Penguin

Corpus Playroom, 7pm, until Sat 17 Nov

This play is in no way ‘heavy’ and doesn’t arouse a spiritual crisis in its audience, but it’s the perfect combination of inoffensive comedy and astounding drama to kick last week’s blues and have me looking towards the end of term and Christmas cheer. The free Battenburg probably helped.

The first thing to grab me was the technical standard. The initial view of a quaint Hull living room really set the bar for the rest of the play: the attention to minute detail in props, such as toy cars and old CDs, combined with the effort put into the set design – they carpeted and wallpapered the Playroom! – created a very natural atmosphere as a foundation for the next hour. The use of sound effects for phone calls and lighting changes to indicate the passage of time were a nice touch, too.

The acting built upon the atmosphere very effectively – when my plus-one remarked that it was “naturalism at its best”, I had to agree. There are many hilarious one-liners throughout the play, but they were delivered so convincingly, it felt less like a run-of-the-mill comedy and more like a well-judged drama. This is especially notable considering that much of the play revolves around penguins (in Hull) – something I quickly forgot, as the dialogue came so naturally. Fresher Tom Stutchfield plays a man in a penguin suit with startling ease, while Hugh Stubbins and Laura Jayne Ayres make an entirely convincing expectant couple – it was easy for me to believe that Hugh was a reluctant-cum-enthusiastic father and Laura an excited mother, even if her “bump” did slip a bit. These three’s first scene together on stage is one of the strongest in the production, and the direction excellently brings out the humour from their awkward situation. The tasteful accents also deserve a mention – it’s all too easy to overplay a northern accent for humour, and the cast avoided this skilfully. Max Upton as Stitch, however, really made the show for me. I’ve seen a number of good actors in my time and yet I was still amazed at the ease with which he created the character of Stitch: emotions flickered across Max’s face while thoughts ran around Stitch’s head. At one point I even almost cried. Yes, I was impressed.

I had one minor qualm: the script. The play starts off feeling light-hearted and cheery, but then tries to touch on some difficult themes, like romance and sexuality, parenthood, and suicide – but touching on them is all it does. It doesn’t explore them quite deeply enough, and while this kept the play easy-going, it didn’t have me leaving the Playroom in deep contemplation, which is something I think a script that deals with such issues should achieve. At one point the story became very dark very quickly, but this wasn’t striking so much as a bit clumsy – luckily it recovered quite quickly.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play. Ultimately, it’s a good script which then pales in comparison to the quality of the acting and direction. It’s almost like the script acts as a framework (embellished hugely by the set) to allow Hellie Cranney and her actors to showcase their skills, and they’ve turned an interesting setting into an incredible production. I daresay that while I have faith the Freshers’ Shows will go well this week, if you see them and yet are still yearning for more theatre, come and watch some veterans do what they do best.

Johann Kamper