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A CurtainUp London Review
For all the hype about a European premiere, the 2011 showing in London is essentially John Doyle's 2008 New York production, which he both directed and designed, recast with British actors. The wonderful David Bedella plays Willie, the more gregarious and extrovert chancer of the Mizner brothers, and Michael Jibson his quieter and more earnest brother Addie. The action centres on an iron work bed which sees the death of their father (Glyn Kerslake) and sees later action as a boat.
The show is played on a traverse stage with the audience seated either side and period wooden furniture improvising to give witty mini changes of scene. The brothers shivered in a tall wooden locker sharing a sleeping bag in the Alaskan gold fields and we believed it. From their father, there is a wonderful lyrical simile with an old rolltop desk talking about it being rough as it ascends but sadly I couldn't see a roll top desk in sight!
The Mizners' story is that of America from the bottom up. The gold rush has them gripped, and with the proceeds Willie opens a bar cum gaming casino while Addie goes on a world tour looking at investment opportunities in Hawaii, India, China and Guatemala. Later they get into property development in Florida and make money by pyramid selling hyped real estate. At each juncture, hundreds of hundred dollar bills are distributed and line the stage. At one point the green backs even rain down on the audience and at a low point two bills are used to snort cocaine.
Whilst Willie "had ladies round the block and down the hall" the real love story is between Addie and handsome rich kid, Hollis Bessemer (Jon Robyns) and their love song "The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened" was a highlight of the show for me. I also enjoyed the many lively and often jokey crowd scenes, the white sun glassed society ladies hiring Addie as an architect to design elaborate houses inspired by his world tour and providing them with one up on their neighbours.
I think the changes over three decades to some of our attitudes to racial stereotyping may mean we are less tolerant of some of the comic portrayal of East Asians and Indians but maybe I need to lighten up! David Bedella is ever mischievous, a charmer with a deep voice and seems to enjoy his role and Michael Jibson is the more vulnerable brother we want to mother! The cast of thirteen work hard to bring us many, many more discernible characters and the singing is excellent. Gillian Bevan is strong as the boys' mother and Jon Robyns and Michael Jibson have beautiful voices.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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