Sunday, 22 May 2022

Comic potential is fully realised

THE Henley Players set themselves a challenge in producing Alan Ayckbourn’s 1999 play Comic Potential

Comic Potential
Kenton Theatre
Tuesday, October 11

THE Henley Players set themselves a challenge in producing Alan Ayckbourn’s 1999 play Comic Potential.

The plot: robots have replaced actors in a television studio. The theme: what makes us human? Is it less painful to be a robot programmed to churn out a ‘script’ or do we, as humans, still have the power of original thought?

The challenges: to make the most of the play’s comic potential while sneaking in a bit of philosophy and political comment (Ayckbourn’s cynical view of the world of TV at the time) and still time the action to give the jokes time to hit their target: you.

The Henley Players were more than ably directed in all this by the very experienced Mike Huntington. Whether the final production is the result of a talented cast or inspired direction, we cannot know — but the Henley Players certainly pressed all the right buttons in this production.

It would be great to be able to comment on every one of the cast, not forgetting the skills of the backstage crew, but that is never possible. When you go — and do go — make sure you take note of some of the smaller roles as well as the leads.

Michael Mungaruan and Liz McEwen as the actoid (actors played by robots) farmer and his wife are very funny; Karen du Plessis and Harry Petrie are superb as the prostitute and the pimp; Allan Phillips plays an endearing cameo role as the long-suffering husband on a boutique shopping trip. (Do such husbands exist who go shopping with their wives?)

As for the leads, Sabrina Fawcett as the actoid nurse, Jacie Tripplethree, Charlie Mcmann as the wonderfully nerdy Adam Trainsmith who falls in love with Jacie, Mike Rowbottom as the has-been director Chandler Tate — each of them made the most of their roles.

Sabrina Fawcett makes the audience empathise with her confusion when she begins to experience human feelings: “I don’t know what I want. I’m not programmed to know.”

We feel for her in her dilemma — will she have the courage to go forward to experience life as a human or will she chicken out and go back to the factory to be reprogrammed and safe?

Mike Rowbottom as Chandler Tate showed us again how energy is so vital to any role — he put his heart and soul into his and commanded our attention whenever he was on stage.

One tiny grizzle — I would have liked him to be a little less in control of his life. All that drinking, all that regret — wouldn’t he have been falling apart just a bit more?

The body language of each actor (and this goes for the whole cast) was exceptional and adds so much to each role.

Small touches such as the always-brilliant Grainne Harling as ball-crushing Carla Pepperbloom (Ayckbourn’s words, not mine) almost exiting but coming back to have the last word, Adam Brimley (Marmian) with his pouting, petulant exit in his astoundingly brilliant pink wig — so many and so much, not an opportunity was missed.

Save your applause for David Parkinson’s (Lesley Trainsmith) final speech: it is superbly delivered, gripping, commanding in a very sotto voce way — worth waiting for.

You leave with the thought that yes, being human is terrifying. We have no programmed template to tell us what to say or how to feel. We have to find out. Robots will never rule — they will always need a living, breathing human to program them.

Ayckbourn was scathing about the role of television in our lives. A night away from the couch to see this production of Comic Potential will give you more to think about than any night in front of the box.

Henley is so fortunate to have productions of such challenging plays performed by so talented a cast and so amazingly directed — book your tickets now and encourage live theatre right here in Henley.

Until Saturday. To book tickets, call the Kenton Theatre on (01491) 575698.

Review by Bridget Fraser.

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