What’s in a Name? – Review – York Grand Opera House
By @Roger Crow, October 2019
Years ago some friends had a discussion about their relatives who decided to call their baby Ptolemy. It was left field, and you can imagine the problems the kid would have later at school, but sometimes an offbeat name can be the making of a person, as Johnny Cash classic ‘A Boy Named Sue’ proved.
It’s that idea which forms the thrust of a good half of What’s In A Name?, the Gallic saga which has been converted for UK audiences, and enjoys a successful opening night at York’s Grand Opera House.
The first thing you notice is the set. It’s phenomenal. No lashed together props here, but a mock-up of a living room, kitchen, staircase and bedroom doors so effective, after a while it feels like the audience has moved in.
Then there’s Joe Thomas, who many folks have no doubt turned up for alone. As the awkward posh one in The Inbetweeners, he’s enjoyed a key role in one of the biggest British sitcoms of all time, while the two spin-off movies were phenomenally successful. BBC comedy drama White Gold wasn’t bad either.
“Laugh out loud funny”
Here he gives one of his best performances as the narrator who sets the scene for the saga which unfolds. The set-up is simple: cheeky Dad-to-be Vincent and his partner Anna are invited to dinner by his sister Elizabeth and her husband, Peter. They are joined by Swiss childhood friend Carl for a sophisticated gathering.
For most of the first half, Carl says little, but acts as a sort of buffer for the characters as sister and partner come to terms with the name Vincent has chosen for his baby son.
Any mystery about what that might be is scuppered by the poster, but it’s an interesting set-up for a play. The power of words has long been a hot topic for satirists and writers. Take Python’s ‘funniest joke in the world’ sketch. So lethal it kills anyone who reads it, so it’s soon weaponised for the battlefield.
Here the baby’s name, in various forms, is dissected, and the knock-on connotations for other associated names is also addressed. It stands to reason that if you apply one rule to a censored moniker, then others must also apply.
There are times when this is so jet black, it’s laugh out loud funny. A bombshell early on sets the tone, and the mix of shock and relief was almost palpable.
“Shaken to their core”
The cast, which includes Laura Patch, Bo Poraj, Louise Marwood and Alex Gaumond, work well together, and at a brisk 45 minutes, there’s no danger of the first half outstaying its welcome. (Thanks to the narrator breaking the fourth wall, there’s a clever way to bring the curtain down for the end of part one).
I could have done with a little background music to alleviate the odd intentional silence, but that’s the thing about plays. There’s often an awkwardness between pauses. It might also have been better to have the cast wearing microphones, as the odd punter may have had trouble hearing some of the dialogue, but judging by the often cacophonous laughter from the audience, I doubt many of the gags got lost.
Part two takes things in a different direction as another bombshell is dropped, stereotypes are reversed, and the family are shaken to their core.
Adapted and directed by Jeremy Sams, from Matthieu Delaporte and Alexander De La Patelliere’s source work, I can see this being adapted for TV or the big screen. It’s refreshingly frank, so those who hate bad language might want to give it a miss.
On a rain-lashed October night, this is just the welcome diversion needed to ease those autumnal blues. Well worth a look.
images: Piers Foley for Target-Live