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What’s in a Name?

by on 13 November 2019

By Any Other

What’s in a Name

by Matthew Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière, translated by Jeremy Sams

Adam Blanshay at Richmond Theatre until 16th November, then on tour until 18th April

Review by Eleanor Lewis

If Mike Hitler had invaded Poland and then led the charge of fascism throughout Europe, it’s likely no child would‘ve been named Michael after 1945. The naming of children, specifically the appropriate naming of children, is just the starting point for the family gathering in this very funny play by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere, translated from the French and adapted by Jeremy Sams.

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Events begin with a character called Vincent strolling into Francis O’Connor’s set, a large, book-walled living room in a soon to be gentrified area of London. Vincent looks like every overconfident, can’t-be-more-than-fifteen, estate agent you’ve ever met: his hair slicked back and his demeanour one of someone who realises it’s part of his job to speak to you but actually he’d really rather not. As well as taking part in this story, Vincent is its occasional narrator, introducing characters, desperately announcing the interval and eventually drawing things to a conclusion.

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Elizabeth and Peter are giving a dinner party for Vincent (Elizabeth’s brother), their friend Carl, and Vincent’s pregnant girlfriend, Anna. It is the potential name of this unborn child and the outrage it provokes which kicks off proceedings and appears to settle the play into something that is almost a cross between Yasmina Reza’s excruciatingly well-observed God of Carnage, and a decent 1970s farce without the slamming doors or falling trousers. This would be entertaining enough in itself, if a bit predictable but Act Two races off at breakneck speed and with great hilarity through every type of the most cringingly awful family and political rows you could possibly have, including the ones likely to cause twenty-year rifts, and leaves the issue of children’s names far behind. The press night audience on Tuesday lived through every hairpin plot bend squealing with delight at some. Eventually the action comes to what I am struggling not to describe as a rather sweet end. ‘Sweet’ being a fairly devalued word these days but in its purest sense, the conclusion of this work as it is related to the exhausted audience by a mellowed Vincent, it must be said, is sweet.

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A highly skilled cast under expert direction (Jeremy Sams and Sadie Spencer) squeezed every drop of comedy out of this cleverly constructed script. Laura Patch as the patient Elizabeth gave full vent to her spectacular ‘enough already!’ exit scene, accompanied by a well-deserved round of applause. Bo Poraj’s Peter was suitably oblivious to his many shortcomings to great comic effect, and there was sterling eyebrow work from Summer Strallen, cleverly not overdoing the glam girlfriend and therefore giving her lots of credibility. Alex Gaumond as Carl provided a soothing and bonding presence between the other four until his own particular plot strand began to unravel, at which point chaos ramped up a gear and all bets were effectively off.

What’s In a Name contains distinct elements of Alan Ayckbourn, and Yasmina Reza. It targets everyone and everything including the woke generation, the rich seam of middle class pretentions, and the often bizarre complexity of personal relationships but I’m not convinced it’s intended to be more substantial than it seems. That said, making people laugh still makes points, it just makes them easier to absorb. What’s In a Name is very entertaining. Highly recommended.

Eleanor Lewis
November 2019

Photography by Piers Foley

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