It seems to me that there are a few versions of the title of this play, but we’ll stick with What If They Were Wrong. Not that the title gives you any indication what to expect anyway! Oppression is a dish best served cold says the programme – for that you have to wait until the final scene, and even then I’d say it was served piping hot, but that’s probably a matter of pure semantics.
The performing duo of Benjamin Williams and Cynthia Lebbos call themselves Two Funny and, boy, are they right. This was one of the funniest hours I’ve witnessed in many months. Using the art of clowning, they tell the story of a couple. They meet at adjacent picnics; he takes her to a restaurant; they get married; they live in domestic…bliss?; and finally, fed up with his laziness and untidiness, she sends him to the dungeon. Yes, that’s right, they appear to have a dungeon in the downstairs of their house. Enunciating only a few words but with many communicative grunts and gestures, they tell the story with remarkable clarity and a fabulous appreciation for surreal and slapstick humour. Who knew that stand-alone words like “naughty” or “reduced” could have such hilarious effect when in the right context?
The audience involvement is considerable, which must be a quite a risk for the performers because they cannot know in advance how any one person is going to engage with them – and it really does require them to be fully participative! Audience members become a substantial part of the prop management department; they also become wedding guests, and even the vicar who marries the couple; one young man was required to read out a particularly lascivious extract from 50 Shades of Grey. But if either of these two actors came up to you and told you to make a fool of yourself in public – you’d just have to. They would be impossible to resist, such is the charm of their performance.
Mr Williams, in particular, gives an astonishingly physical performance, leaping up against the walls either side of the stage, doing one of the best banana-skin type pratfalls I have ever seen (particularly in such a tiny acting space), creating landscapes with his malleable facial features. At one stage I was laughing at whatever activity had just occurred, when he sat down on the couch in front of me and fixed me with his glare and just said “what?” – and it cracked me up all over again. But it’s not just clowning for clowning’s sake. Mr Williams wore one of those silly woollen hats with dog ear flaps that come down over your ears. If it came off or went askew he would scream with OCD distress until it was replaced perfectly – an excellent example of revealing a deeper character whilst still clowning. Miss Lebbos also has a brilliant physical comedy style, and I particularly liked her ability to break out of character completely and address the audience in a matter of fact way that you couldn’t quite work out if it was scripted or not. She looks all sweetness and light, so when she turns vindictive it’s a real shock to the system. And I certainly wasn’t expecting her to frog-march us all down to the dungeon.
Yes indeed, gentle reader, we had to get up from our seats in the Hazlerigg studio and troop down two flights of stairs into the dungeon, where she had imprisoned Mr Williams for some ritual abuse. (This is where the oppression bit kicks in). Upstairs she had seemed such a nice young lady, but in the dungeon she battered him maniacally with all forms of weapons of torture. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t going to put up with that and, replacing himself with a member of the audience (who had to sit there, expecting torture, until the end of the play), went off with his chainsaw in order to track down the unfortunate Miss Lebbos backstage and arrange for her final entrance in two black refuse sacks. The piece ends with some spoken words of advice about how to handle anger management issues. A bit late for that methinks.
A thoroughly entertaining hour of loopy comedy. Nothing phased our two performers at all and they carried on the constant repartee with the audience throughout the entire show. A privilege to witness two performances of such great energy and creativity – I really loved it.