Tristram Shandy - A Hilarious Production

Penny Flood reviews the play at the Tabard Theatre


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Tristram Shandy Gentleman is a fast and furious, bawdy romp through the life of one young man, Tristram Shandy, and it’s great fun. It’s based on the nine-volume novel by the 18th century vicar Laurence Sterne and here the essential bits have been condensed down to this hilarious production. Full marks to Callum Hale who adapted and also directed it. If his name seems familiar it’s because he played the Seargent of Police in Pirates of Penzance.

Tristram narrates his own story, from his conception, accompanied by suggestive noises off, right the way through to his very sad death. He’s played by Josh Carter, who was last seen at The Tabard as Lionel in Cinderella.

As Tristram chats he brings on the characters who were important in his life, magnificently bewigged men, and canny women. There’s the appalling Dr Slopp (James Ivens), the male midwife who delivered him, none too successfully, with forceps; his parents Walter (Roger Parkins) and Elizabeth (Verity Stansall); his gentle but hopeless uncle Toby (Lewis Allcock); the put-upon maid Susannah (Laura Riseborough), his uncle’s servant and war comrade Trim (Darren Gosling), all sorts of clergy in various states of sobriety, and a couple of lusty women, one of whom is more successful at getting her man than the other. And because Tristram’s story goes right through to the very end there’s Death (Mark R.Scopes), a magnificant, very large bird, who pops up from time to time but is always thwarted until the inevitable moment.

And if you think you’ve heard Roger’s name before, it’s because he was the Major in Pirates of Penzance.

The dialogue is sharp but it’s not subtle. No holds are barred, it’s rude, and in-yer-face, such as when Water tries to educate Toby on the right way to describe women’s private parts without actually using the words; and Tristram’s rite of passage when he’s finally big enough to piss out of the window. And of course there’s the birth itself, a fabulous set piece.

Best use is made of the Tabard space with lots of doors through which characters rush in and out, giving it an almost slapstick feel at times. It’s imaginative, with terrific costumes and clever use of background music to mark highlights in the action, such as the Hallelujah Chorus to accompany a successful sexual encounter.

It’s not very long at one hour 45 minutes. Tristram Shandy is a joint production between The Tabard’s own company, Pulling Focus and Hale’s company The Macawber Theatre Company. Sadly, it’s only on until the 8th March, something as good as this deserves a longer run.

February 23, 2014

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