Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Café Ruse (it rhymes with youse), the only refuge in town for a group of misfits Tash, Derek and James, has two days to prevent a lawsuit from shutting it down. Drastic action is called for and the unlikely (and incompetent) criminal gang try to plan an art theft. Although their plan seems simple, the group soon run into trouble with unplanned murders, mistaken identity, love smitten gang members, revealed secrets and a not so successful criminal operation.
Written by Martha Shrimpton and performed by her and three other recent graduates of the E15 Drama School, Café Ruse is a surreal musical farce delivered with a lot of skill and high energy by the talented cast. Shrimpton is apparently a big fan of Acorn Antiques and Fawlty Towers and you can see their influences on this production, which is mostly well-written, with a few uneven bits.
Shrimpton not only stars as Jane, the owner battling to prevent the café’s closure, she also sings, plays the piano and sax and doubles up as the sugary sweet love interest of geeky James (Zachary Hunt). Completing the quartet are Ellie Routledge and Nathan Parkinson who between them, with Hunt, play several different people involved in the plot. Pin sharp quick changes of wigs, glasses and hats support their excellent physicality and (mostly solid) changes in accent to create a very believable roster of bizarre characters. Scene changes are indicated by film score spoofs performed acapella which add to the fun.
The four are good actors, not only keeping up a remarkable pace to deliver one-liners and lots of physical comedy but in the abrupt changes to more sober moments Parkinson and Routledge really draw you in to some rather sad scenes.
All the music is composed by Shrimpton and performed live (as are all the sound effects). It is a shame there aren’t more musical numbers because the show opening is promising, but the idea seems to tail off.
The cast obviously enjoy themselves but there is a fine line between being knowing with the audience, and tipping over into enjoying yourself too much, particularly when things go wrong. The restrictions in the performance space mean the cast are visible when not on stage and they need to be aware of the audience sightlines so they are not a distraction.
With a lot of laugh out loud moments, clever writing and great delivery on the whole this is silly good fun from a talented young company, a good anti-dote to highbrow culture.