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The Remarkable Theatrical Adventures of Peregrine Proteus

by on 19 December 2022

Fast-Moving, Funny, Authoritative

The Remarkable Theatrical Adventures of Peregrine Proteus

by Jane Dewey

The Questors Theatre at Questors Studio, Ealing until 31st December

Review by Vince Francis

Exactly one month has passed since I last visited Questors and I’m more than happy to return for another studio show – and an original to boot.  This time, it is The Remarkable Theatrical Adventures of Peregrine Proteus, an original work written by Questors’ member Jane Dewey and based on the 1825 Pierce Egan novel, The Life of an Actor.  Worth noting that Jane had won the World Coarse Acting Championship with her previous play Present Slaughter, so we know we’re in for a proper piece of work.  This is running until New Year’s Eve and provides a very satisfying distraction if panto isn’t your thing.

The play tells the story of Peregrine Proteus, who falls under the spell of theatre at an early age and vows to make his fortune as an actor.  The journey to such fortune is, of course, less than smooth and what follows is a roller-coaster ride through the early 19th century dramatic environment, societal mores and economic convulsions.  Once again, I am grateful for the informative notes in the programme, which includes a particularly enlightening reference to Tom and Jerry.  If you don’t know, go and see it – and buy a programme. 

The synopsis on the Questors website tells us;

“Set in early 19th century England, this rip-roaring new play tracks one man’s life, from his humble birth to his time in the spotlight.  Along the way, we meet a series of eccentric thespians, from inept actors to smooth-talking theatre managers, hopeful playwrights to doting romantics.

However, as Proteus finally gets his big break, all is put on the line when he falls for the daughter of one of the gentry, who has been promised to another man.  Managing to charm his way out of danger, will Proteus grab hold of his career before it is snatched away?  And could the love of one person be stronger than the crowds calling his name?”

For this production, the studio is configured thrust style, with seating on the two long sides and either side of the entrance.  This works well as the production has opted for an “always on” – well, nearly – style of delivery, so what would be the cyclorama is taken up with storage for costume elements and props, plus some seating for members of the cast who are not in the scene being played, above which is a large mock-up of a classical picture or mirror frame.  Within this frame, the audience is presented with projections of ‘humorous engravings’ of Theodore Lane, an artist and engraver championed by Peirce Egan, but who died tragically young, plus titles of, and introductions to, scenes, provided in a period font.  All of which sets the tone for a proper pacy production.  I liked that.  The proceedings are also blessed with Musical Director-Keyboard player Graham Reid, with the keyboard set appropriately to a harpsichord-style effect.  The music featured is that of the late-Georgian era composer, actor, and singer Charles Dibdin.  I tip my hat to the attention to detail in all these respects.  For me, it gives a real boost to authenticity.

Jane Dewey’s script is witty and fast-moving, combining narration and dialogue that sets off at a healthy gallop and needs to maintain momentum.  The cast need to be on their toes with the cues, both script and movement and absolutely rock-solid on their lines.  I have to say, that there were one or two slips in that department, which meant that the odd gag was lost, or late coming, but nothing fatal.  All of which is understandable in this type of production, but a bit of a shame, nonetheless. 

Zac Karaman plays Peregrine Proteus throughout with an admirable sureness.  David Bentley gives an admirable example of true friendship as Quill as well as getting involved in the company scenes.  Saskia Moon as Maria shows us a principled sweetness – I nearly went into Bernstein on occasion.   Everyone gives it their all and creates a true ensemble production.  However, I feel bound to pick out a couple of performances that caught my eye, without prejudice to anyone else involved.  Holly Hurrrell, whose named role is ‘Miss Kick-Her-Heels’ showed remarkable adaptability, transforming between character types physically, verbally and most importantly, plausibly, at the drop of a hat.  Simon Higginson’s canter through the slippery manipulator Plausible Screw, the print shop boss Quarto and the elegant Sir Harry Hassit was a good watch, too, and I enjoyed the ridiculousness of Dotti Lawson’s Miss Made-Up.  Costume designer Jenny Richardson deserves a nod here, too, not least for Miss Made-Up’s hat in Act I, but generally for finding a way to get the maximum effect out of seemingly minor (I know some of them weren’t) changes.  A hat here, a waistcoat there and hey presto!  A different character.

This is a most enjoyable evening’s entertainment.  It is fast-moving, funny, and, in some respects, informative. For example, I hadn’t fully realised the extent of exploitation in the theatre community of that period.  There’s a bit of tightening up on lines to do, but I’m sure that will happen in short order.  Crafted and performed by people who clearly care about getting things right in every particular, this has the stamp of an authoritative piece, which it wears suitably lightly.  It was even worth missing the World Cup Final for, so make of that what you will.

Vince Francis, December 2022

Photography by Evelina Ponyte

One Comment
  1. Liam Lahart permalink

    Sounds amazing!!

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