Set in a trendy warehouse flat in Peckham, What’s In A Name follows the ups and downs of a friendly dinner party. Ill-timed jokes, secrets long hidden and a clash of ideologies take place amidst the backdrop of a familiar setting of cheap rosé and the cries of children interrupting adult conversation.
This UK premiere of a new production of French play, directed and translated by Jeremy Sams, is sharp, fast-paced and very witty. Sams’ script and Francis O’Connor’s design are very naturalistic, from the incredibly detailed apartment set to the cultural references that pepper the conversation.
Every character is given a distinctive voice in Sams’ clever adaptation of this story. Peter (Jamie Clover) and Elizabeth (Sarah Hadland) are a slightly bohemian, upper-middle-class couple (they have a daughter called Gooseberry). Hostess Elizabeth thinks everything is “really brilliant”, whilst her literary professor husband Peter double crosses and finds hidden meaning in “almost definitely” every statement. These individual quirks make every character very relatable, meaning that every twist and turn of this farcical comedy seem surprisingly plausible.
What’s In A Name is full of big, contrasting personalities, from passive trombonist Carl to hot-headed, impetuous Vincent. Lines overlap, the cast talk over one another, and disagree in an amicable manner reminiscent of many close families. As the conversation grows more intense, an exchange of friendly insults becomes more serious, and the evening takes a darker turn. The cast take risks with the speed of delivery, with excellent results.
Raymond Coulthard is exasperated and outraged as Carl, his eloquent speech contrasting with flustered hand gestures. He hints at a darker side to Carl’s character, keeping quiet at key moments and quick to excuse the wrongdoing of others. Nigel Harman’s Vincent is the charismatic narrator the piece, engaging the audience with overblown physical humour and childlike glee at the mayhem his jokes cause. Harman’s commitment to the role is tremendous; his face grows red and his arms visibly shake as he literally boils with rage.
Sarah Hadland gives the standout performance as Elizabeth, with excellent comic timing and an endearing positive attitude in the face of confrontation. Her final impassioned monologue is a powerful release of anger and resentment, inspiring a spontaneous (and lengthy) round of applause from the audience.
Completely absurd and utterly hilarious, What’s In A Name is the perfect combination of situational comedy and outrageous drama. This combination of a sharply written script, fast paced direction and intelligent performances is fabulous rollercoaster ride of love, lies and betrayal.
What’s In A Name is at Birmingham Rep until Saturday 11 February, and tickets are available here.