Brighton Fringe 2009
A Victorian Farce – Box and Cox
Dog Ate Cake
Venue: The Ropetackle Centre, Shoreham, West Sussex
Festival: Brighton Fringe
The vary rarely performed play Box and Cox, is a tale of a housekeeper, who in order to get a bit more money to have a better room in the house, dupes two men into thinking the house is their own. Lots of laughs and silliness ensues resulting in an interesting conclusion.
A good atmosphere was created when entering the venue by the lyrical sounds of a piano in the foyer with food and drink before being taken into the auditorium, where the audience encountered a cabaret style set up of tables and chairs and atmospheric music reminiscent of the Victorian Music Hall. A pleasant surprise was had by the Artistic Director of Dog Ate Cake coming on stage and being our ‘interactive programme.’ As he jovially explained, this was due to lack of finances for one! But this didn’t put us off one bit as in true Victorian Theatre style, he introduced the actors one by one and introduced the play – this was a very original method which set the mood for the whole evening.
The set was very minimalist, but easy to create a scene out of a couple of tables, chairs and props that included hats and a strange bustle type object. What evolved was an evening of pure fun and frolics, letting us enter into a world of slapstick comedy, heightened acting and lots of audience interaction with well constructed characters.
All three actors had strong performances and unique strengths associated with each character they played. Tim Wyatt in particular stood out, playing Mr Cox – a young, vibrant ‘jack-the-lad’ who loved to smoke pipes. The energy he brought to the stage was bouncy and yet at the same time, extremely well controlled. The way he pranced around the stage and threw insults at Mr Box (played by Matt Houlihon) was a pleasure to watch and his vocal control and variety were spot on, plus his comedy was really nicely handled.
Matt Houlihon’s character Mr Box was a very different kettle of fish – he was a hatter who was extremely prim and proper in his approach to life. The contrast to Mr Cox was startling and yet when it was discovered they had more in common than they realised (they were brothers and they dated the same woman), both actors in a way became similar to one another as they came together at the end of the play. The banter they both had going on was fast and sharp, but at times needed to be tidied up to get more laughter.
But it was Heather Saunders who was the secret behind the two men – the housekeeper Mrs Bouncer. She played this role with such grace and decorum, but I couldn’t help but feel that she wasn’t making enough of her comedy moments to make her more prominent in terms of the action taking place on stage. Despite that, she made a very good attempt at making her small character stand out against the two leading males.
The play did however have some faults. For instance, there were times when the slapstick went on for too long and lost people’s interest, the comedy timing was not quite perfect and the modernities included within the piece (such as over-explaining certain terms used in Victorian Times and modern cursing) were not always necessary. When these things occurred, the energy went flat and it seemed that each actor was struggling to maintain the momentum. However, I will say that I could see what they were trying to do in the sense of trying to recreate the vibe and the atmosphere of what Victorian Farces would have been like back then (they would have used what was modern at the time for their audience interaction) and they did a good job in doing so.
With a little more tidying up and more belief in what they are doing, this show could be a little gem waiting to be discovered and possibly set a trend for a very rarely performed genre of theatre. This is a young theatre company that will do well in the future.