Brighton Fringe 2011
Two well chosen tales from Damon Runyon’s classic take on New York in the 1930s and 1940s. Runyon was one of America’s chroniclers of the Great Depression. Ian Shaw, Duncan Henderson and David Mounfield play many parts between them, both male and female!
Pitch perfect flow and sharp tongued delivery are the watch words of this finely delivered production from a talented trio of Brighton’s finest.Meet Nicely Nicely Jones and WIllie the Worrier and a host of other characters in a pair of tales spun before us by Messrs Shaw, Henderson and Mounfield.
Hand drawn projected scene back drops support the simple staging which is all about simple placement, and no fussiness in the skilled way these stories are told and performed. But these are actors who can really act, who make it look easy, and that gives the audience permission to let go and enjoy as well. The stories are both daring and yet life-affirming. There’s irony and parody alongside some gritty portrayal and we really begin to feel the city there around us.We’re taken back to a time where hardship also brought out character, idiosyncracy and also endeavour.
The first tale is hilariously built around an eating contest and the comedy is pulled off with great aplomb. The second tale concerns a half blind cat. Rudolf is hiding out. This second tale is more delicate, laced with sadness, though the laughter is kept at bay by skilled design and not by any failings on behalf of the performers. There’s a fine blend here of dark humour laced with touching moments.
The characters remind me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cape Cod world, and there are hints of Woody Allen humour here as well. What marks it out as high quality is that is is never overdone. They’ve pitched it near on perfectly as theatre.
David Mounfield portrays thinness with Oscar winning vocal dexterity and holds his gullet back to become a suitable echo of his former five feet wide existence. Shaw is a brilliant holder of the main narrative thread, and its both a masterclass in direct storytelling and character comedy. Henderson, especially in the second tale, steps into the skin of a hoodlum on the run with 100% commitment and believability. And that is because these three are among the finest actors I have seen on the Fringe.
As writing, the narrative weaves into story and scene with ease – an ease achieved both by fluid writing and impressively simple staging and polished performances.These are three consummately fine performances, with easy comic timing, that occasionally stumbles over the word-packed script.
There is a danger that the pace and short-story style can overload our ability as an audience to process it as it is delivered. Theatrically it can feel a bit content-overwhelming at times. A bit more pace and less speed? Something for both writer and director to consider.
You need to go thrice to catch all the gems in this breakneck speed script. It’s word-heavy story telling, but always engaging, I’m left wanting to meet all of these characters in the flesh.
Performances the size of a town clock, you’ll be left hungry for more. Personally I enjoyed every minute of this comedy gem, as did the rest of the audience who were responsible for regular eruptions of laughter.