Theatre Group’s The Show Must takes the traditional form of farce and gives it an original twist. As the audience entered the theatre, the cast were arranged on stage engaged in vocal exercises. It soon became apparent that this is was a play within a play. Each member of the cast took on two roles; that of an actor in ‘The Harling Repertory Theatre Company’ and a part in the play they were putting on. The meta-theatrical element centred on the relationship between Lily Turnbridge-Hagg (Georgina Wormald) and Edward Bexley (Tom Claxton). When Lily’s parents invite Edward’s family over for lunch, it transpires that Colonel Walter Turnbridge-Hagg (Andrew Brown) has invited an rival for Lily’s hand; Richard Wickheart (Nick Dawkins). Farcical high jinks ensue, including a duel, a secret love affair and hapless detective. Behind the scenes, the Harling Repertory Theatre Company bicker and accuse each other of sabotaging the show.
The Show Must demonstrated the skill of the cast. All managed to create two distinct characters, displaying a comical contrast between their 1920s personas and the sulky actors backstage. Particularly impressive was Mo Hocken as Katherine Turnbridge-Hagg/Helen DeRees, the perfect wife onstage and a bitchy dissatisfied starlet in the wings. The split screen effect of the staging allowed the audience to see the cast in both roles simultaneous, this led to moments of hilarity when the fights offstage were interrupted by the laughter of the audience at the mimed antics onstage. Becky Downing playing Felicity Didcott performed some especially funny physical theatre in her silent moments onstage.
The Show Must was written by Joshua Ling and Robin Leitch, both students at Leeds in their time. It is quite an accomplishment on their part. The script contains echoes of Noel Coward’s classic comedy combined with a touch of P.G Woodhouse. The ending was especially impressive. Instead of resolving both plotlines, the writers resisted the temptation to tie the final scene up in a big bow. A third layer was added to the drama, leaving the audience intrigued and desperate for answers. Isabelle Pead’s performance as the stage manager was essential to this illusion. She managed to bring character to a potentially flat role.
The cast were convincingly arrayed in 1920s dress, with Jess Moncur as the neurotic Joyce Bexley sporting a particularly impressive bun. The set was minimal, mainly consisting of four doors, through which the cast exited and entered the main stage. This minimalism really allowed the performances to stand out and prevented the layered plot being drowned in too many props. All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, with plenty of laughs and a lot to come away and talk about.
Image: Bobby Bates