As 1920s big band jazz music plays while the audience takes their seats, the energy is that of frivolity and high-energy jollity, which matches the image on the poster for Thark. The entrance of the first character almost instantly displaces this, and unfortunately the disappointment runs through the entire performance.
Essentially, the premise for this attempt at farce written by Ben Travers is that Hector Benbow (played by Mathijs Swarte) wishes to cheat on his wife Lady Benbow (Charlotte Vasell), with the help of his nephew Ronald Gamble (Robin Blell). Through misogynistic humour, dated innuendo and confusing character choices, this audience member was left questioning why this piece was produced, especially given the cultural and societal issues which have been given more representation throughout the globe this year.
Directed by Matthew Parker, the utmost importance seems to have been placed on the speed of movement of each actor, which comes at the expense of their ability to listen to one another. Furthermore, many of the actors’ diction is not particularly clear, which results in spectators being unable to even understand what it is they are saying. Blell’s portrayal of the nephew has a few comic moments, however many of the same ‘bits’ are repeated, growing tiresome, which can also be said for the moments that actually are well received, as it continuously goes on for too long, leaving us waiting for something else to happen. The stand out actor of this piece is Isabella Hayward, who plays Cherry Buck, her heightened RP totally note perfect.
The bright points for Thark lie in the set and costume design, by Granville Saxton and Bryony J. Thompson respectively. The end- on space is decorated in the style of the 1920s, and the beautiful costumes also bear these lovely details, especially the stunning dinner ensemble worn by Hayward.
Granted, Travers’ writing is set in 1927, when men and women were on much less of an equal footing, however, almost all of the speech is said by the male characters, and whilst they do all the talking, the female characters just seem to be treated as furniture to the scene, waiting to be spoken to, otherwise not talking or even wanting to be addressed it seems. If the intention is to comment on how times have changed, then that is lost in the action of the play.
This style of theatre needs to go like the clappers, it needs to be a whirlwind of fast- talking, fast- moving hilarity, which proves to be too much to handle for this company. There are many other shows in London that are of a better standard, for a lower price.
Thark is playing The Drayton Arms Theatre until the 6 January 2018