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Review: Vice Versa

Phil Porter’s new RSC comedy at the Swan Theatre, Stratford, is a tongue-in-cheek, rude and rowdy Roman romp.

As the complete antithesis to Shakespeare’s tragedies Antony Cleopatra and Julius Caesar in the RST, Phil Porter’s new Roman comedy Vice Versa is totally, utterly bonkers! The Decline & Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hand of his Canny Servant Dexter and Terence the Monkey is its alternative title – a bit of a mouthful but essentially it encapsulates the plot. Lovingly ripped off from the ancient Roman comedies of Plautus it’s an all-singing, all-dancing contemporary Marx Brothers-style panto full of slapstick and saucy double entendres.

General Braggadocio (Felix Hayes) and his servant Omnivorous (Byron Mondahl), RSC

General Braggadocio arrives on stage on a regal motorised leopard-print scooter escorted by his rag-bag entourage of eccentrics with blackened teeth. “It’s not very often you see a military man with his privates standing to attention,” he declares. Wearing Superman socks under brown sandals and a sticker on the back of his scooter proclaiming ‘Boobiez Make Me Smile’ the General is a moustachioed ruddy-cheeked braggart and “sleazebag”– a man who thinks fame can get him anything. Next he plans to run for Emperor, enforce the city walls and “make Rome great again…” Sound familiar?

“Would you like to polish my weapon?”

It’s a riot of colour, craziness and Roman cheer-leaders. The setting is the exterior of a Roman house with balcony and rose covered ladder – good for an escaping monkey to climb…

Jon Trenchard plays Terence the monkey

Vice Versa turns the chauvinism of Roman society on its head. Charismatic Sophia Nomvete – General Braggadocio’s jocular, quick-witted servant Dexter – is the central character who holds the play together and involves the audience in her mischievous scheme to reunite Voluptua with nice-but-dim true love Valentin.

Sophia Nomvete’s resourceful Dexter with the General

Voluptua – another good performance by Ellie Beaven who was in the writer’s 2013 play A Mad World, My Masters –  was kidnapped by the General to be his concubine. When she’s caught in bed with Valentin by the general’s loyal servant Feculus, Dexter comes up with the idea of bamboozling the general by pretending her mistress has an identical Greek twin. Although the fact that they’re both wearing the exact same outfit – bar headscarf – is completely overlooked  by everyone, including the General.

Feclus (Steven Kynman) and Volupua (Ellie Beaven)

Janice Honeyman’s production claims the most props ever used in an RSC production – 244 including a Walkman, a lampshade and an entire supermarket shopping trolley!  The scene in which Dexter unpacks the General’s grocery delivery turns into a comical foodie pun-a-thon that may leave you ‘melon-cauli’ when it comes to an end… Aha!

Allo Allo: it’s Kim Hartman who played Helga in the classic sitcom

I do like the ridiculously silly, and some of the characters in Vice Versa really made me giggle. Felix Hayes as the General with his colourful collection of bullying insults – “You blundering bum sponge!” being one; Steven Kynman’s Feclus the General’s bowl-headed loyal servant; and Nicholas Day, who plays the general’s neighbour and Dexter’s ally Philoproximus, an elderly magistrate. Amusingly, he feigns ignorance over the “four and 20 saucy euphemisms” Feclus uses to describe what he saw in the bedroom to delay him from reporting Voluptua’s infidelity to the General. Look out too for ‘Allo ‘Allo’s Kim Hartman who plays a prostitute called Climax.

Dexter, Valentin (Geoffrey Lumb) and Philoproximus (Nicholas Day)

Vice Versa continues a great new season of  new writing at The Swan following on from Snow in Midsummer and The Hypocrite. This month also sees the launch of The Other Place’s Spring Mischief Festival, a month-long new work festival featuring The Earthworks by Tom Morton-Smith, directed by Erica Whyman and Myth by Matt Hartley and Kirsty Housley.

A very funny, rude and rowdy Roman romp. The perfect summer pick-me-up!

rsc.org.uk, Tel: 01789 403493, Vice Versa runs in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until Sept 9.

Running time 2hrs 5 min plus 20 mins interval.

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