REVIEW: What's in a Name at Cambridge Arts Theatre - a clever play full of surprises deftly performed

PUBLISHED: 23:19 29 October 2019 | UPDATED: 23:38 29 October 2019

Joe Thomas (centre) as Vincent in What's in a Name at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Joe Thomas (centre) as Vincent in What's in a Name at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Archant

The stand-out performance is from Joe Thomas as father-to-be Vincent. He has the most to do. His is perfect comic timing but he is by no means alone. All five of the cast had the audience laughing throughout and this is very much an ensemble piece - they spark off each other.

This is a clever play, brilliantly performed. The joy of it is in the surprises, which it would be unfair to give away.

The plot changes shape like a kaleidoscope, giving each character in turn, their chance of a virtuoso performance and each cast member makes the most of it.

The stand-out performance is from Joe Thomas as father-to-be Vincent. He has the most to do. His is perfect comic timing but he is by no means alone. All five of the cast had the audience laughing throughout and this is very much an ensemble piece - they spark off each other.

The energy never flags, it's fast-paced and punchy.

We open with Thomas as the expectant Dad Vincent, telling his horrified sister, Elizabeth, her husband Peter and their schoolfriend Carl that he and his partner Anna plan to call their child Adolphe.

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By the time mum-to-be Anna arrives late to the dinner party and "Adolphe" has been revealed as yet another of Vincent's jokes, the others feel ridiculous for having been fooled and in the argument over the name, enough other old issues have been dragged up to set things ablaze.

As the play develops, one by one, each character either reveals their resentment or discloses a secret which shocks the others.

Laura Patch as Vincent's sister, Elizabeth is the peace-maker for most of the play but when she suddenly lets rip at her husband, Peter, it's an outburst that brought a round of applause from the audience as she left the stage.

Peter (Bo Poraj) has his own machine-gun round of indignation, bringing up a childhood grudge against Vincent. Then the brothers-in-law Peter and Vincent turn on best friend Carl, played by Alex Gaumond, who gives a bravura performance when his true personality emerges. It's nuanced, gentle and funny.

After that, Carl and mother-to-be Anna (Summer Strallen) pair up for a double act which has the audience holding its breath.

Written orginally in French by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere, the play has been so deftly translated and tightly directed by Jeremy Sams that it becomes a neat parody of English middle class manners. Each very different character is utterly recognisable. We know these people.

The world created is placed in a captivating set by Francis O'Connor, so appealing, you can see yourself living there. At times, this is a firey play but overall it's benign. It's fun and a rather uplifting night at the theatre.

What's in a Name is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 2.

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