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Don't Take the Pith! | Drayton Arms Theatre

Don’t Take The Pith is promoted as Canonbie Productions’ follow-up to their previous success at the Drayton Arms Theatre, and whilst they do well to ensure that this does not feel like a sequel, it does feel like many of their best gags have been used up. However, that does not take away from the show’s individuality, which presents itself well in the intimate setting.

The play opens with Abigail Dawn’s character, a Northern house servant called Maud, cleaning the room with physical gags choreographed well with the overlaying music. After this, we are rapidly introduced to the ensemble of characters carrying the story. The opening stages focus on establishing personalities and the roles each will play in creating the farcical environment whilst continuously teasing the plot - the purpose of Lord Sebastian Hardcastle's (Peter Rae) and Lady Susan Bloom’s (Helen Bang) visit to the island of Not-Borneo. Eventually, it is revealed that they have been summoned by The Crown to find the stolen Talisman which was gifted to Lord Peter de Meur (Richard Rycroft) and Lady Fleur de Meur (Laura Morgan) - who are leading the British Outpost on the island - by the local tribe. Through sharp wit, the fourth wall is broken early on and the audience is made to feel part of the storytelling.

One of the joys of comedy is its lack of reliability on a deep plot which is why Rae’s (also writer and sound designer) approach of creating the world first worked as a strong opening for the play. Yet this does not mean the plot should be completely disregarded. With the fourth wall demolished, the characters make several references, arguably too many, to the

fact they are in a farce. This includes their acknowledgement of the obscure plot but attempt

to justify this with a simple “it’s a comedy, it doesn’t have a plot”. The plot that is present is solely to guide the characters into the next scene and give reason for them to interact with each other so that comedy can be created. Unfortunately, the humour is too inconsistent to carry the show by itself. Overall, the play is met with wavering audience laughter and the

physical gags are cleverly directed, but some jokes fall flat through occasional verbal stumbling and misplaced interruptions. With such a large cast for a cosy theatre, it felt like many jokes were forced in to ensure everyone was hitting their quota for quips instead of generating even quality.

As mentioned, it is a large cast and they are tasked with making sure the space never feels too small. It would be understandable if not everyone were able to keep this up for the entire play, it is a tough job, but the team have constructed a strong group of actors and not one performance falls below the very high bar of delivery. Notably, Rycroft, Ola Teniola, and Billie Vee do a fantastic job keeping momentum despite the fluctuating plot. Rycroft uses his vast experience to effortlessly portray a Lord whom audiences enjoy laughing at. Teniola plays Kanaka, a tribal steward, and has the strongest of entrances every time we see him, commanding the room and each scene. Vee plays Adiratna, a tribal queen, and is one of the only characters to offer a different style of comedy, giving us a break from the sometimes repetitive sense of humour.

It would be unfair not to applaud Bang’s terrific set design. Being the first thing you notice as you enter the auditorium, you immediately feel thrown into the 1920s atmosphere and begin looking around to admire the effort put into building this. The chaise lounge rightfully takes centre stage as Bang shows off her intricate design, earning the gaze with

which it anchors.

With comedy, you want to be entertained with cheap jokes, ridiculous gags, and absurd ideas. Don’t Take The Pith! aims at each one of these, but fails to keep consistency which makes it hard to justify two acts. Even so, it is kept alive by stand-out performances and wit which cleverly pokes fun at British attitudes of the era. Maybe the show needs more time to

find its feet, but they do say sequels never better their predecessors. Don't Take the Pith! runs at Drayton Arms Theatre until 1st June - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Wala Arts


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