Meet Arthur. Everyone knows an Arthur. He’s an egocentric lazy git, who sleeps in late, disrespects his parents, is disruptive at work and takes his girlfriend for granted. He’s a whining whinger who blames everyone else for his problems and never takes responsibility for himself. One day he answers an advert for Therapy with a Push – a new counselling service designed to help you get your life together and make a fresh start. There he meets his new therapist, Steve. Will Arthur’s life ever be the same? You’ll have to watch the show to find out.
Within the confines of the Flash Festival, I think full-on comedy is the hardest thing for the performers achieve over the course of an hour’s play. When it works, it really, really works, and when it doesn’t…. There have been a couple of absolutely splendid comedies that I’ve seen during Flash week over the last few years: last year’s Deciding What to do with Dad had great characters and a really dark feel to it, and the physical comedy and clowning in What if they were Wrong in 2016 was a sheer delight. I know comparisons are odious, but I have to say, I’ve not seen a Flash Festival play that made me laugh so much as Framed Ensemble’s Oh Arthur.
The genius of this show is that you have two immensely likeable performers, both playing to their strengths; one, Simon Roseman as Arthur, nearly always centre stage, and at the centre of his selfish, indolent universe, and the other, Tyler Reece as everyone else, moving in and out of Arthur’s world in a variety of voices and costumes. Mr Reece has a true gift for comedy; a comedian’s face and a knowing style. You can completely believe him as your socially inept best mate or your priggish work colleague with all their little idiosyncrasies; and you can even believe him as Arthur’s mum in her wig and apron, or his girlfriend, in her best Dorothy Perkins. Mr Reece delivers a coup-de-comedie (I don’t know if that’s a phrase; it is now) that stops the show, revealing his brilliant feel for comic timing. That’s his strength; supremely confident and in total control, whilst still coming across like one of the lads.
Mr Roseman, too, is absolutely on fire in this production. He commands that stage like a young Ricky Gervais; Arthur’s character is appalling, so why are we on his side? But we are, because Mr Roseman lets us into Arthur’s world with complete honesty and openness. A lot of the fun comes from the audience both criticising and identifying with his behaviour. I loved his vocal command throughout the entire show; his is another supremely confident performance and you know he’s never going to put a foot wrong. When the audience has complete trust that the two actors are going to deliver the best possible show, we all go home happy.
There’s an element of playing to the audience and breaking the fourth wall – this works perfectly because they don’t overdo it. And whilst you’re never in any doubt that you’re watching a comedy show – Oh Arthur has its tongue firmly in its cheek – at the same time you genuinely believe the conflicts and the emotions between the characters. It may be played for laughs but you’re genuinely upset for his mum when Arthur treats her badly and you’re genuinely delighted when he and his babe are reconciled at the end (oops, sorry, spoiler alert.)
Completely won over by the story, the script, and the two fantastic performers. With a tiny bit of tightening up here and there, this could wow them at the Edinburgh Fringe. A sheer pleasure to watch, and I really hope it has a life after Flash.