The Landlord’s Arms is a work of new writing by the wonderfully eccentric Charles Edward Pipe. Previously known to me only by word of mouth as a man unusually fond of a poncho, he has now earned his place in my consideration as both a brilliantly funny comic writer and an astute director. Having watched two plays preceding this one, both of varying degrees of seriousness, this rollicking gangster romp could not have been more welcome.
In his writer’s note for DST he described the piece as ‘funny, and that’s pretty much all it is’. In essence, I’m inclined to agree, however he cites inspiration from Monty Python to Mitchell and Webb, and I would suggest it is this broad range of sources that has allowed for such a rich play to have been born out of what started as a single sketch. The comedy duo who opened the play were the two feckless gangsters, Johnny and Ronnie, hysterically portrayed by Emily Oliver and Ben Smart. The pair dominated the stage whenever they were allowed on, with Oliver’s pseudo-serious, all knees-and-elbows geezer with a spot-on cockney accent playing off perfectly against Smart’s wonderfully innocent, ever-so-charming, more-than-slightly-thick, thug.
The play relied heavily on running gags, most notably a scene on the boating lake between a pair of young lovers: Rodger (Izzy Cowell) and Linda (Annie Lucas), overseen by the boatman with an absurd backstory played with abundant enthusiasm by Yuly Sr Alexandrov which was acknowledged in true meta theatre style: ‘Are we still doing this gag?’. Cowell and Lucas were perfectly paired, with a highlight of their coupling being a short skit with some ice lollies, where the obvious jokes were made. The comic timing of both the cast and the tech team was flawless, but most impressive was the improvisation that was carried out without missing a beat each time something went wrong. Moreover, each and every actor committed wholeheartedly to every single terrible, heart-stoppingly bad pun, ultimately leaving the audience in stitches.
Whilst Johnny and Ronnie were without a doubt the most entertaining pair to watch, the entire supporting cast exhibited strong character acting throughout. ‘The Boss’, acted by Jacob Freda, subtly portrayed the life of a mobster boss with a cocaine addiction with such delicacy and detail the audience could not fail to be moved; George Sutton played the Landlord in all his different roles with such finesse that each iteration was unrecognisable from the previous one, and Alesya Matyukhina was compelling as a parent conflicted by the desire to protect their child.
Overall, scope for criticism is limited, however I would argue that pacing was an issue. In a genre where the norm is to accelerate to a crescendo of farcical hilarity, the lull following the brilliant set piece where the cast used avant-garde physical theatre to convey a lake, (this show is worth seeing just for the line ‘sea slug’), seemed unnatural. Furthermore, whilst in the director Pipe and his assistant director, Dom Balcombe, have done an excellent job in making sure each scene was well rounded, there were moments which dragged and some scenes felt underdeveloped, especially the dinner between Roger, Linda and Parent. This perhaps came about due to the time limit of an hour; a very short amount of time to stage a complete comedy.
These minor complaints however have little bearing on the fact that making an entirely sober audience roar with laughter at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon is a substantial achievement. With jokes made at the expense of Prince Andrew, coronavirus, and most frequently, the cast, this play held nothing back and left the punters begging for more. I both hope and expect to be reading smash reviews from The Fringe by the end of the summer.
The Landlord’s Arms will be playing again on Saturday the 8th at 7:30pm, at The Assembly Rooms Theatre.
By Caitlin Barratt