Tag Archives: Stephen Mangan

“Rules For Living” at the National Theatre

Using, of all things, Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy as a very literal framework, Sam Holcroft’s new play for the National Theatre makes for a riotous evening. A family’s foibles are revealed to us in the form of their coping strategies, or ‘rules for living’, to use the therapists’ term, on a game show-style screen – all part of Chloe Lamford’s witty set. So we know, for example, that one character sits down when they lie and another stands up to tell a joke. Every move realises its comic potential.

Holcroft’s strategy is a neat gimmick that’s so effective that the actors have half the work done for them. Nonetheless the cast is superb. Stephen Mangan and Miles Jupp are brilliant as brothers who reveal their competitive streak and long-held grudges. Claudie Blakley and Maggie Service play their partners, full of repression and insecurities, revealed, respectively, by booze and bad jokes. Best of all is Deborah Findlay as the mother who ‘cleans to keep calm’ – a performance that magically transcends her deliberately recognisable character to become comedy gold.

Rules For Living might be a touch too long in places, and the final act adds disappointingly little, but Marianne Elliott’s direction is impeccable and the jokes have a high hit rate. And underneath the original twist is an old-fashioned dysfunctional family comedy – it’s even set at Christmas – that works superbly. The show gets better the sillier the events and the characters become. The culminating luxury food fight alone means you get your ticket money’s worth. It’s not a play if you hate to see food wasted, but the whole thing is a great deal of fun.

Until 8 July 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

“Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense” at the Duke of York’s

P.G. Wodehouse’s legendary comic characters, the nice-but-dim Jeeves and his gentlemen’s gentlemen Wooster, have been brought to the stage in an adaptation from Robert and David Goodale. In Perfect Nonsense, the strategy of dealing with Wodehouse’s elaborate plots and precise humour is to present the evening as a show that Bertie, played by Stephen Mangan, is putting on.

Matthew Macfadyen’s Jeeves and Mark Hadfield, as his fellow butler Seppings, take on all the roles and provide the scenery. The impromptu staging, which aims to be another source of humour, makes this the lightest of comedies and the show becomes that prized thing – family-friendly fun.

Pretending to improvise as they go along is a neat enough move, and it gets laughs, although it has to be said that it’s been done better before. We see Mangan’s shocked face, as the scenery appears and moves around, far too often. But it’s a perfect gurn for the part and all the cast are undoubtedly strong. Both Mangan and Macfadyen have the stage presence to make the roles work, but Hadfield steals many a scene as both an “ancestor Aunt” and the sinister Roderick Spode, who threatens to turn Bertie into jelly. But the venture into amateur dramatics makes the unflappable Jeeves, well, flappable, and getting dragged up as Madeline Bassett is surely beneath him, no matter how well Macfadyen manages.

The physical comedy is good. And gags that come from Alice Power’s sets and costumes have their appeal. It’s a shame, though, that experienced director Sean Foley, who had such a hit with The Lady Killers, hasn’t put more speed into the show. There’s so much repetition the evening feels stretched rather than exhibiting the relaxed insouciance that might be more appropriate for its characters. Some of the pacing comes dangerously close to milking the jokes. And the lack of momentum means the show toys with silliness without ever really ascending into farce. But Wodehouse’s lines are, of course, seriously funny. His devoted followers will love hearing them; even if Perfect Nonsense doesn’t convert many new ones, this is a show fans should adore.

Until 8 March 2013

Written 13 November 2013 for The London Magazine