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May 27, 2017
Vice Versa, Swan Theatre, Stratford, until Sept 9.
To say lascivious lothario General Braggadocio goes for the jugular in leading this lampoon at the Forum would be doing him a disservice.
The slobbering braggart and his troop of servants operate in the theatre of belly laughs, with assaults embedded just below the waistline.
And they are relentless. The audience at The Swan was pinned in their seats with lashings upon lashing of bawdy sauce, and they lapped it up.
No pun is left unpunned, no sexual act left as mere innuendo, no bodily function kept privy.
In short, it is awful. Brilliantly, hilariously, self-knowingly, awful.
And also a masterpiece in the art of comedy timing and physical stagecraft.
That they pull it off (and here I feel obliged to insert an "Oo, er, Matron") with aplomb is a triumph rooted in the sumptuous acting talent and production brilliance available to the RSC.
The play is billed as “ripped off from the Roman comedies of Plautus”. Well, that may be so, although it sounds like a clever bit of marketing to me.
Carry on up the Forum by way of Up Pompeii might be a more contemporary, though common, reference.
General Braggadocio is played by Felix Hayes (pictured above), a standout performance that combines the dash of Blackadder’s Flash with the sleaze-appeal of Rab C Nesbitt's string vest.
Sophia Nomvete, his duplicitous slave Dexter (pictured), stitches the whole improbable tale together as a Lurcio-style narrator and near-steals the show in a sketch involving vegetable puns.
The plot revolves around the General being cuckolded by his mistress, the voluptuous Voluptua (Ellie Beavan), and heads are about to roll.
But a cunning plan is hatched, with a wink and nod to Stratford's master of bawdy comedy: Voluptua is to have an identical twin sister…and the dimwitted general will be duped into thinking it was she who was in bed with his love rival.
To say the players throw everything bar the kitchen sink into this scenario would be inaccurate.
A kitchen sink is carried across the stage at one point, just in case you thought they were serious and that other famous Shakespearean actor, Kenneth Williams, is misquoted in his "Infamy...Infamy.....” gag.
Vulgar? Certainly. Almost its raison d'etre, but there wasn't a minute in the two-hour play that the audience wasn’t laughing.
Photo: Pete Le May
Charm offensive by the general; https://www.rsc.org.uk/vice-versa/trailer
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