Reviewed by Alex Wilde
In all honesty, I had never considered the titular question or actually heard of the play. Yet there were two certainties: it stars Joe Thomas of ‘Inbetweeners’ fame and was beginning its first UK tour at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham – two assurances of quality in my book.
What’s in a Name? is an adaptation of the award-winning French play Le Prénom. It premiered a decade ago and has since been translated into twenty-two languages: touring throughout Europe and breaching the UK at Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre in 2017. I am reliably informed there is a film too. The play was adapted by Jeremy Sams.
Paris has been swapped for Peckham, where “hip” middle-class married parents of two Elizabeth and Peter are hosting their dearest family and friends for dinner. It’ll be a casual evening of great company, fine food and expensive wine in their trendy apartment. The guest list rarely changes, tonight’s attendees have been the closest of companions for three decades. Vincent, Elizabeth’s successful and cocksure younger brother and his glamorous pregnant wife, Anna, are the guests of honour. Along with Elizabeth’s oldest and most trusted friend, Carl, which makes five. Fortunately, the children are in bed and the Moroccan banquet is coming along nicely – what a splendid evening it will be…
Despite the set of misplaced car keys and Anna running late, the evening gets off to a fine start, until Vincent shares the first scan picture of his unborn child and announces their choice of name. Following this confounding revelation, highly comic and uncomfortable debate rips open their past history and lays bare what they really think of each other.
The first half of the play was superb; the sparring between Joe Thomas’ egotistical Vincent and Bo Poraj’s supposedly liberal Peter appeared effortlessly slick. Vincent relished in pushing Peter’s buttons, driving him to the most eloquent ranting. His arguments were obsessively worthy, as if he alone were the bastion of morality. Such is the quality of writing and acting that I believed they’d been friends since childhood and knew exactly how to get under each other’s skin. Harassed Elizabeth, played by Emma Carter, and cognisant Carl, played by Alex Gaumond, admirably attempted (and failed) to mediate the riveting to and fro. The behaviour of the characters drives the comedy at breakneck speed, you only stop grinning for the plentiful laugh out loud moments. Just as you think the shockwave has receded, Anna arrives – igniting another fuse and exploding accusations into the intermission.
The second half explores the themes of rivalry, simmering resentments and thinly veiled prejudices in which no member of the soirée escapes. Recriminations and accusations come thick and fast. Emma Carter and Alex Gaumond take their share of the limelight in this half and Louise Marwood completes the excellent cast. The past and present collide to great effect and everyone gets to harangue the others – calling them out on everything from snobbery to stinginess. There are many more hilarious and unexpected revelations, however the second act becomes a little too “real” and slows the pace towards the end. The finale is very satisfying, and the shared journey was well-worth it. A talented cast and passionate creative team have reimagined the classic you never knew you loved!
A hilarious must-see new tour! Perfect performances in this middle-class maelstrom of clever comedy with razor sharp dialogue. A sure fire hit and four stars!
Tickets cost from £13 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
What’s in a Name? is at The Alexandra in Birmingham from 11-14 March 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/birmingham or call the box office on 0844 871 3011.
The Alexandra Theatre, Suffolk Queensway, Birmingham, West Midlands, B5 4DS