On the Razzle
ADC Theatre, 7.45pm, until Sat 17 Nov
It is incredibly difficult to resist the urge to write this review with the qualification of “they’re just Freshers”, or “it’s their first time”, but that would be disrespectful to the incoming Fresher contingent. On the Razzle is the ADC Mainshow and must be viewed as any other ADC Mainshow would.
Unfortunately the qualifications of youth and inexperience would really have helped this lot out last night. Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of an 1842 Viennese farce is a tricky text, requiring pinpoint timing and delivery to eke the humour from the script. Unlike better know Stoppards like The Real Inspector Hound or Arcadia, On the Razzle isn’t necessarily funny however you play it, but listening in to the words hard last night it became clear that it’s made of a rich tapestry of puns, quips, malapropisms and hilariously knowing metatheatrical references. Yet this cast just weren’t able to make the most of it – diction was significantly lacking, particularly in the case of lead male Edward Delman, whose penny-pinching shopkeeper seemed a figure unformed: the various strands of the character’s story (greedy businessman, protective guardian, wooing lover) each seemed entirely separate, as if Delman hadn’t quite thought enough about who Herr Zangler may be as a person. Gabrial Cagen, too, as a lascivious coachman seemed to play very much on one level without consideration of how to give his sequences light and shade. There was a strange decision to occasionally say the odd word in Austrian accents but mainly ignore them entirely. Moreover when actors hadn’t decided how to say a line they simply rushed through and steamrolled over it, rendering some opportunities for comedy gold as little more than baffling babble.
Claire-Emily Martin may well get noticed for this complicated and impressive set, featuring a slide, a plethora of windows and more flown pieces than the cast knew what to do with, and the construction of it was indeed remarkable. But over-complication was the issue here: Martin and director Josh Simons needed to think more about how to deal with the rapid-changing setting of the play. By choosing to bring on a whole new set every time location changed, the show repeatedly ground to a halt with long, laborious scene changes (the audience applauded each time assuming it was the interval). Perhaps a simpler, more versatile set would have supported this fast-moving text better. Equally a bit more thought might have been given to the lighting design, which was unobtrusive and simple, but even in its simplicity often left characters half in the dark – never a good look.
Yet despite these pretty serious reservations, I most certainly did not leave the ADC feeling that all hope was lost. There were a series of solid, impressively animated performances – particularly from the females of the cast: Sophia Flohr and Zoe Petkanas were particularly memorable as a pair of high-society ladies whose cheeky sense of fun excuses their tendency to get caught up in other people’s farces. Sam Rayner and Alys Williams are sweet and genuine as a pair of star-crossed lovers, particularly hilarious when contrasted with Amy Reddington’s debauched and dishevelled maid. Leads Henry Jenkinson and Guy Clark, as a pair of shop workers who decide to go on the titular razzle held the piece together with a strong sense of timing and great chemistry between them. Clark’s facial expressions in particular provided some of the funniest moments of the night. Tania Clarke’s take on the lovable rogue trope was a highlight of the evening – her cheeky-chappy winks and gestures, and fabulous footwork gave the impression of real showmanship, never erring too far from naturalism that humour descends into the surreal.
I have absolute faith we’ll see much more from all of this lot – there was a lot of talent on the ADC stage, but On the Razzle might not be the best way to find out about it.