Benjamin Alborough’s Cream Tea and Incest is less similar to the ‘Daddy’s Boy’ skit in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt than I thought it would be, which is good as a musical in such close confines as the Hope Theatre would surely drench us all in spit, and not so good as Cream Tea and Incest is best when its jokes hit closest to the bone. There are not as many incest jokes as you might think, or fear. With Edwardian aristocrats, colonialism and P.G. Wodehouse-style romps in its sights, this is a breathless and larger than life comedy which fans of the era should make sure to see.
Olivia Rose Deane and Francesca Leone as designers, along with Ivo de Jager, responsible for graphic design, have impressively outfitted the stage with a cardboard version of everything: a suitcase, a portrait, a copy of Das Kapital, a gun. It adds to the playful quality of everything, and the level of detail is wonderful – a genuine stool is covered completely in cardboard, and cardboard newspapers bear tiny, humorous articles related to the play’s events. The four actors are directed by Benedict Philipp to use the space with a boundless enthusiasm and levity, and the audience respond well to the acting which is often right in their faces.
The story itself doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (it isn’t a very tight farce), which seems not to matter too much, and the characters are of course mainly archetypes: Aidan Cheng as a lord torn between love and, well, money, Alborough himself as the foolish noble wrecking everything in his path, Eoin McAndrew as his far more competent valet, and Edward Spence as the sweatiest villain you’ve ever seen, making the most evil noises. Cream Tea and Incest has the most fun when joking about the hypocrisy of the aristocrats ravaging the chances of the working classes here and abroad, ramping up the homoeroticism and deviating from its rails (the need to get Lord Wiggins to reunite with his fiancé, Emily Rhodes. Yes, of those Rhodes).
The best moment is perhaps a hilarious, arse-slapping dance which comes towards the end of the piece, choreographed by Hector Mitchell-Turner. The very short essay ‘A Glass of Sparkling Auteur’ in the programme shows Alborough to be a very funny man, sensitive to the speak of people in the industry and able to implode it. Cream Tea and Incest is a reflection only of the beginnings of what Alborough is might achieve, and should be caught here or at the Fringe this summer.
Cream Tea and Incest is playing at The Hope Theatre until 28 April
Photo: Olivia Rose Deane