Liberté, égalité, fraternité, a rallying cry for change in Revolutionary France. The overthrow of French aristocracy has proved a fertile ground for inspiration of dramatic works from the serious to the comedic. Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, for example, looked at an enigmatic hero, determined to rescue the nobility from under the revolutionist’s noses. Pimpernel has itself spurned lampoons and is the starting point for Gonzo Moose’s latest comedy.
The larger-than-life characters provide ample ammunition for parody and the group wastes no time in setting out their irreverent take. The Pimpernel becomes ‘Le Grand Pois’ leading his band of rebels Le Petit Pois; Marie Antoinette becomes the ultimate Essex girl, and Louis XVI a lisping clock obsessed simpleton.
It all looks promising and there are moments of pure comic joy. Sadly these are interspersed with clunky dialogue and scenes that sap the piece of much of its farcical energy. With three actors playing a myriad of characters, scene transitions slow and some scenes seem little more than a necessary pause to cover a costume change. Other scenes seem to have been abandoned-mid concept – a witty audience participatory preparation for a forthcoming marriage proposal is abandoned never to be heard of again.
It often seems to be a string of improvised ideas rather than a coherent whole. Stretched out at close to two hours, the piece seems to be in need of someone identifying what highlights work and stitching these together into a one act piece, half the current length.
There are some successful moments – the act one musical finale that parodies Les Miserables, the royal’s wedding night and a frantic coach ride to Calais cause plenty of laughs but these need to be sustained.
The three-strong company, Mark Conway, Jonathan Peck and Lauren Silver, create some vividly over the top characterisations, with Silver in particular impressing with the diversity of her roles and some rousing musical numbers. Characters are only one part of the equation, though, and without a strong framework to house them it becomes a patchy evening.
Abigail Anderson’s direction has her company roving over Mandy Dike and Ben Rigby’s versatile multi-level set but, while there are moments of swashbuckling adventure, it’s otherwise a flat and uninspired direction.
In many ways the production seems more like a work in progress showing of potential ideas, rather than a finished product. At the end of the evening one can admire the performances but it’s hard to feel any revolutionary fervour.
Originally written for The Public Reviews