Friday, 13 April 2018

Cream Punk… Cream Tea and Incest, Hope Theatre

“Remember what it says in the bible: aim for the stomach and he’ll bleed heavily but won’t die straight away.”

That time when someone slipped PG Wodehouse a little something in his tea.

A battle for the nation’s very soul between Lord Lord Wiggins and his, marginally, more-evil brother Lord Biggins Wiggins against that dynamic duo Eddie “The Mangler” Spangler and his loyal butler Jeffrey. It’s a fight involving Keynesian multipliers, the full Marx, free-market opium production and being beastly with the best intentions as well as the best Edwardian inventions. But most of all… incest and tea with cream: you just cannot say fairer than that. It’s national. Also, WAR!

Setting his arms against a mill of troubles is Benjamin Alborough who this play did both write and perform despite no doubt gracious advice from the kind of people who wouldn’t do this sort of thing. They were all wrong and he was all right on the knight.

I can’t keep this up, but this play leaves you giddy, all shook up from close-proximity silly and the ever-present danger of song, direct eye and even actual contact; in a play in which death by cuddling is all too frequent, being in the front row takes its toll. There’s also magnificent double, triple, quadruple, round-the-back and forth again, word play in which the simplest phrase can mean some-think else: imagine Lee Mack had he gone to Christ Church or Balliol. Relentless. Funny. Charming.

And what’s more; it’s all done with cardboard. Yes, beware even your Amazon packaging for cardboard is flexible and believable… cardboard can kill, especially in the careless hands of Spangler. The backdrop is cardboard, his waistcoat is cardboard, breakfast, knickers and a fully functioning gun are all cardboard. Quite rightly they say, this is the World’s first 2.5-dimensional show.

But the characters leap out from the beige, Lord Lord Wiggins (Aidan Cheng) dressed in a splendid silken suit – all the rage for tailored-trousered philanthropists – has an accent so far beyond plummy that you’d have to call it jam. It’s a wonderful turn from Cheng, certainly one of the four hardest working men in showbiz (on Upper Street at the very least).

Spangker has a plan!
Wiggins has inherited his father’s wealth and is looking to marry Rhodesia itself in the form of Emily Rhodes. But he is having a crisis of capitalism and isn’t sure whether to seek trickle-down solace in a free market or to appropriate the means of production and, damn it all, he isn’t sure Emily is the one, yes, he’s not convinced that Rhodes-is-her.

Important government types send the indefatigable Eddie and his valiant valet (excellent Eoin McAndrew) to the rescue. All they have to do is ensure that Wiggins doesn’t falter – the fate of Empire rests on it and much more besides as Spangler’s opium production will be compromised by any Rhodes-exit and subsequent tariff impositions. AND, War!!

But it’s not that simple, how could it be… Enter a hail of rhetorical ferocity in the form of unlucky Wiggins sibling, Lord Biggins (a spectacular Edward Spence), who wants nothing less than the restitution of his rightful inheritance after Dad favoured his more gentile brother. He means murder and we quite believe it.

Now the card really hits the board as all these unstoppable objects meet in an irresistibly hilarious conflagration.

Benjamin Philipp directs his fantastic four exceptionally with a script packed full of enough words for a play twice as long. The actors’ verbal dexterity is matched by their ability to dance and, yes, sing, in the Hope’s intimate space. What I love about this place is the closeness between audience and performers, there’s nothing for it but engagement and whilst others talk of “immersive” the Hope has always been involving from the very first power chords in its basement to the latest excuse me in eth queue for the loo. A great pub and an exceptional theatrical venue.

 Eoin McAndrew, , Edward Spence, Aidan Cheng and Benjamin Alborough
By the end we were all singing along to the play’s theme tune, clicking our fingers in time as the players summed up – I even had a go at matching Eoin McAndrew’s higher register but he knows what he’s doing!

Cream Tea and Incest plays until 28th April and tickets are available from the box office… then it returns at the Edinburgh Festival, follow the play on Facebook and Twitter for more details.

Ithankyou Theatre verdict: **** Call me a cardboard lover!*

All Production photography by Olivia Rose Deane.

*Things are – possibly – taken a step further in The Cardboard Lover, a 1928 silent film featuring the brilliant comedienne Marion Davies and scandi-smoulderer Nils Asner.

Further watching for those who the board of card do love...

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