This is comedy with a capital C

Review by Paul Nelson

REVISITING Smelling A Rat in its reincarnation at the Union Theatre is an eye-opener.

Luckily for the company, Streetcar9 Productions managed to re-engage the same cast. Seeing them renewing their original roles can only be described as awesome.

Of course, I expected the actors to have improved. A sell out run, followed by a fallow period before a few intensive rehearsals and opening in the play again must be beneficial.

What surprised me almost to the extent that my eyebrows flew off my face was the extent of the improvement.

Their interaction is now so slick. Their knowledge of what they are doing, where the laughs will come, and where the shocks will have most effect, have opened up a vast new field.

I must confess I laughed a lot the first time I saw the play. Now, with its elegant polish, the surety of the company and the mastering of that vital thing in comedy - timing, I thought I was going to bust a gut.

Essentials are watching Ian Rixon and his parroting of platitudinous sayings, all inappropriate and not understood by him, and each as banal as 'a stitch in time'; the catatonic Tyrone Atkins, frozen with fear, fear of saying anything, doing anything, wanting or loving or lusting after anything.

When you see his relationship with his father the truth is out. This is not a psychological examination, it's a howling funny situation; see the terror of Rudi Symons, a girl with no means of communication at all faced with a man with a gun who has just bounced out of a wardrobe; add the almost incredible comic grasp of Indi Madray, trying to please everybody, her husband, a terrified woman who has locked herself in the lavatory, and her husband's boss who is seemingly insane. This is comedy with a capital C.

I pity those who will miss it.

Incredibly, the cast are in the same boat as before, agents, managements and prospective angels will not bother to cross the river. I should imagine that for this hard-working cast that is a difficult pill to swallow and for my part these influential people should be ashamed of themselves and choke on their elegant dinners, which they are enjoying at their clients' expense. The Union Theatre is no more than a stone's throw from the Old and Young Vics. That it is largely ignored is a stain on the reputation of those who would have us believe they have the good of the theatre at heart.

Smelling A Rat by Mike Leigh directed by Ben DeWynter. With Bob Rixon (Rex Weasel), Indi Madray (Charmaine Maggot), Ian Rixon (Victor Maggot), Rudi Symons (Melanie-Jane Beetles), Tyrone Atkins (Rocky Weasel). Presented by Streetcar9 Productions at the Union Theatre, Union Street SE1 020 7261 9876.

Click on the link above to read Paul Nelson's original review