What's In A Name?, Birmingham REP - review
Le Prenom, which is the French title of this play, enjoyed its first Parisian outing in 2010 and achieved nearly 250 performances on its debut before being turned into a successful film.
The problem arises as how does a play which is basically a French comedy translate to an English audience?
There are considerable differences between French and English humour. The French love farce, slapstick and practical jokes. Benny Hill and Mr Bean are seen as icons in the world of comedy.
The French also see themselves as witty and sophisticated, as well as being able to enjoy a robust discussion.
There is also a considerable gap in the treatment of sexuality. If a Frenchman loses his trousers it is an occupational hazard, but when an Englishman does the same it is a matter of grin and bare it, so to speak, and submitting his resignation. But at ex-president's Francois Mitterrand's funeral his wife and his mistress, as well as their children, mourned side-by-side.
Jeremy Sams has cleverly adapted Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere's original script and set it in London's Peckham where the BoBos (Bohemian Bourgeois) have begun the process of gentrification.
Vincent (Nigel Harman) is a very successful estate agent with an equally successful wife Anna (Olivia Poulet) who is five months pregnant. He takes two bottles of Chateau Margaux 1985 –that's roughly £1000 to you and me--to his sister's Moroccan Buffet Night. She is Elizabeth (Sarah Hadland) a French teacher married to Peter (Jamie Glover) who is a university lecturer in French at Goldsmiths.
The party is completed by Carl (Raymond Coulthard) a long-standing friend of the group, but who is only a second trombonist in a London orchestra.
Vincent surprises the group by announcing that, having seen the scans, the name of his new son will be Adolphe. The others take exception to this saying that it would burden the child with a lot of unwelcome social and historical baggage. Vincent digs his heels in and says the boys name will be Adolf, which only makes the situation worse. However, he then reveals that it was all a joke and that his son's name will be Henry.
The others take their revenge by making fun of Vincent's facial expressions. Peter also claims that Vincent is self-obsessed and ego-centric recalling an unfortunate incident from their childhood. Vincent responds by calling Peter stingy—saying that when he takes folding-money out of his wallet it is like extracting his own fingernails.
The truth game gets serious when the attention turns to Carl. Vincent calls him the Banana because he's single, forty, wears orange and listens to Michael Buble. However, Carl responds with a revelation of his own which so shocks and disgusts some of the group that Carl is physically assaulted.
Elizabeth responds with an impassioned rant about how she has played second fiddle all her life, firstly to her brother Vincent, and then to her husband Peter—giving up her own opportunities to support his career and becoming mother to Gooseberry and Apollinaire, along with a few fruity epithets which drew a round of tumultuous applause from the REP audience.
The acting was superb throughout and the comic timing was absolutely impeccable. The subject matter might have been a little out of the ordinary from the usual comedy menu but this production had the audience chuckling throughout with its sharp observations of metropolitan social and business life. A fine example of a French comedy which has translated well to the English stage.
What's In A Name runs until February 11
By Jerald Smith