“Porterhouse will modernise…Porterhouse will change” is proclaimed in the first scene by the newly appointed Master of Porterhouse College, Sir Godber Evans (Ravi Patel), as he announces sweeping changes to the centuries of college tradition, much to the concern of Scullion (Oliver Jones), the head porter and the Fellows.
This adaptation of Tom Sharpe’s 1974 novel of the same name, takes a satirical look at Cambridge life and the struggle between tradition and reform. The production takes a tongue-in-check approach, caricaturing the traditions and characters of the university much like a Daily Mail news article on Caesarean Sunday or May Week.
The plot is presented to the audience through a “narrative conceit”, beginning with the likeably unlikeable journalist Cornelius Carrington (James Coe), whom we encounter more in the second half, and then moves to Walter (Maddy Green), a fellow porter of Skullion’s.
The group consisting of the Dean (Sasha Bobak), Senior Tutor (Jasmin Rees), Bursar (Anna Wright) and Chaplin (Tom Nunan), works well collectively and also individually in scenes, portraying the full energy and light-hearted fun of the play. Sir Godber Evans and his wife, Lady Mary (Jamie Williams) meanwhile juxtapose this with more serious, and “liberal” messages: admit female students, install a self-serving canteen and contraceptive machines in the gents.
Another plot line in the fold, is that of the only research graduate student in the college, Lionel Zipser (Adam Reeves), who has a strange lustful fixation on his middle-aged, large-breasted bedder Mrs Biggs (Patrick Wilson). Their scenes produced some of the comedic highlights of the play, and the chemistry and sexual tension between the pair I must say was most effectively portrayed. Another highlight consisted of Zipser’s visit to the hard-of-hearing Chaplin, to whom he tries to explain his fixation via a mego–phone: 'I use this for confessions…whatever you say will be held in strictest confidence'. The scene had everyone in stiches, and Tom Nunan, plays the old, strange, yet kind-hearted Chaplin incredibly well and convincingly. Zipser, increasingly sexually frustrated, ends up drunkenly stealing 2000 condoms but when he sobers up panics and tries to get rid of them. His plan to get rid of them by hiding them in the chimney comes to a disastrous end, as the curtains of the first half fall with the dropping of blown up condoms *beware of latex*.
The energy and vigour of the first half was somewhat lost when it came to the second. Accents started to slip, and energy faded, and the death of Sir Godber was anti-climactic. The death and then swift appointment of Scullion as the new master seemed rushed, almost as if it were an afterthought and quick way to end the performance. This largely, for me, let the performance down, especially against the strong start of the first half.
The set design was well done and nicely presented, easily adaptable with the changes occurring in the plot. The music was very well done also, performed live in the corner of the set, being noticeable yet not obscuring the rest of the set. The opening night mishaps overall were comedically dealt with, and full credit must go to the cast for dealing with this so seamlessly, that it almost felt part of the original script.
A well-deserved sold out performance, with a stellar cast and filled with comedy poking fun at our very own University.
Porterhouse Blue is the ADC Mainshow from the 7th-10th February.