A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum - 18 September 2004

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum should be approached with caution for all seriousness must be held back to be replaced by laughter, for this show does nothing more (and doesn’t sell itself any differently) than be pure entertainment. It is funny, well performed, slickly directed and makes for a satisfying couple of hours. It is as close to a pantomime that the Americans will ever get.

The story, such that it is, concerns Pseudolus the slave and his gaining the virgin next door for his master in order to gain his freedom. An easy task ? you would think so but when at one time there are three potential ‘virgins’ all in different houses confusion is bound to reign! The action is played on a bare stage in front of 3 houses with doors which sometimes rotate and sometime hinge (a perfect candidate for disaster if I ever saw one !) Much well timed business carries on through these doors, slickness is the name of the game and the show certainly achieves that.

Desmond Barrit heads the cast as Pseudolus, slave to the lovelorn Hero. Desmond’s past roles as pantomime dames gives him the comfortable knack of being able to interact with the audience, ad lib, create and exacerbate a certain amount of corpsing. I felt he just needed that cheeky twinkle in his eye of the scheming, yet slightly inept, slave. Vocally wise he seemed to be suffering a little as well. Hero’s father (Senex) is played by Sam Kelly, always slightly behind the action or at least in his own little world. He has a wonderful look of bewilderment and a man foolishly relishing his freedom from his domineering wife thinking she has gone away !

The young lovers, the ‘Lovely’ but less than bright welsh Philia was played perfectly by Caroline Sheen, capturing the naivety and innocence in a beguiling way as she posed, as taught to do, completely unaware of the illogical thought processes in her head especially in ‘That’ll show him’ where she intends to take revenge on her husband by showering him in kisses and hugs to show how much she loves Hero !! Hero, the clueless young man who would while away the hours on a cloud with harps and flowers is played by Vince Leigh with a wistful vacant charm, open to any suggestion if it means he will win Philia and even then he is not that sure what to do !

David Schneider was the gullible Lycus, owner of the harem next door to Hero but lacking the intelligence to see when he is being tricked instead dashes frantically in and out of the house avoiding the ‘plague’

Hamish McColl was the highly strung, aptly name Hysterium, servant to Senex, running on a worry level beyond anyone else whilst also harbouring a secret collection of interesting shaped earthenware ! He spends much of his time looking horrified at Pseudolus’s antics and the sequence in act 2 with him having to pretend to be the dead virgin bride is hilarious with great comic timing. He has an energy and expressionate face which doesn’t have to say anything in order to convey what he is thinking.

Isla Blair is the domineering Domina, wife of Senex, who after having little to do in act 1 comes into her own in Act 2 as the 3rd ‘virgin’ bride. One look from this Domina would stop anyone in his steps.

Graham MacDuff was excellent as the puffed up, self admiring, arrogant and yet mocked Miles Glorionus, strutting around the stage ordering his will but somehow never seeming to get it. His slightly oversized armour gave the impression that his rise in the army was perhaps not planned ! He was in good voice in ‘Bring me my bride’

The ever changing roles of the 6 proteans make them the hardest working all night but their boundless energy and enthusiasm was apparent whenever they were on stage. The girls have less to do in the show but did slinkily move around the stage displaying their wares for anyone to see.

Forum is not essentially a singer’s show, voices are required for Philia, hero, Miles and Domina but others could easily get away with speak-singing. Edward Hall has given the piece swift direction which relies on timing which the cast carry out with aplomb. The final sequence of 3 brides, fathers, mothers, lovers, husbands and anyone else racing around, in and out of doors is slick and perfectly orchestrated. The performers have a great energy and sense of fun which carries through the whole piece. One highlight is Senex, Lycus, Hysterium and Pseudolous performing the vaudevillian style ‘Everyone ought to have a maid’ and the funeral sequence as the ‘dead’ Hysterium pretends to be the virgin bride of Miles gets perhaps a little too much into his new character !

A thoroughly entertaining piece

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