The Victorian in the Wall*** (Royal Court – Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, 16 May 2013)

Posted: May 17, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

Will Adamsdale came to prominence when he won the Perrier Award for Comedy at the 2004 Edinburgh Festival, but instead of following many of his contemporaries into arena tours, he has chosen the much braver option of exploring the potential for his brand of comedy in fringe theatre. The downtrodden little man, who is perplexed by the trappings of modern life to the point of near defeat, is a familiar persona for stand up comics, giving them a rich vein of targets to which audiences can easily relate. Here, Adamsdale places that persona into an amiable character called Guy, played by himself, who lives in a flat in a converted Victorian property, located in a soon-to-be-trendy gentrified part of old working class London. He is a struggling writer, suffering from writer’s block, and a serial procrastinator. Giving him one last chance to prove himself in a failing relationship, his girlfriend leaves him alone to supervise a knock-through from living room to kitchen and the creation of the dream of all aspirant couples – a breakfast bar. In the early stages, with Adamsdale taking centre stage as narrator/Guy and gags arriving on cue every 20 seconds or so, the script has the rhythm and feel of a stand-up routine and it is unclear why it is not being presented as such. However, as this type of observational comedy is well-worn and many of the jokes are no more than mildly amusing, the stimulus provided by expanding the format to introduce new characters is very welcome. Each of them brings an extra source of comedy that complements Adamsdale well, also providing texture and depth to the material. A few songs, strong on humour but weak on melody, add to the jollity. Events take a surreal turn when the knock-through reveals a Victorian named Elms (Matthew Steer) living inside the wall. As they introduce each other to their respective lifestyles Elms turns out to share many of Guy’s characteristics. He becomes transfixed by texting and daytime television, whilst Guy learns of the delights of collecting cigarette cards and attending music halls. This situation provides the opportunity for culture clash jokes, typical of time travel tales, but none of them particularly novel in nature. Although fantasy elements are included, this is never an absurdist comedy in the truest sense, because the humour is always rooted firmly in everyday reality. Other characters include a builder with a passion for ballet (Chris Branch), a Nigerian “orphan” (Jason Barnett) and a music hall performer (Melanie Wilson). The four supporting cast members all play several roles and they all worked with Adamsdale and co-director Lindsey Turner in devising the show, which is a collaboration between the Royal Court and Fuel. It is performed on an unfurnished set with the rooms marked out as a floor plan and, oddly, a backdrop of cardboard boxes and plastic bins that looks like a stockroom at Poundstretcher. Ultimately, it matters little that this show is styled more as an expanded comedy routine than a play, so long as it is funny, which, for the most part, it turns out to be. It is also intelligent and warm-hearted and the affability, exuberance and comic timing of all the performers make it highly entertaining.

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