Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford – until 14th September 2019
Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert
It’s a dinner party, so sit back, hold on tight and expect excruciating revelations as alcohol loosens the lids on all those cans of worms. The hosts are Elizabeth (Laura Patch) and Peter (Bo Poraj), the harassed parents of small children. Their guests are Elizabeth’s outrageous and much richer brother Vincent (Joe Thomas, best known as Simon in The Inbetweeners), his glamorous, high-powered and pregnant partner Anna (Summer Strallen), and classical musician Carl (Alex Gaumond), who is a longstanding family friend.
There’s plenty of comic scope here as hidden resentments emerge, and playwrights Alexandre de la Patelliere and Matthieu Delaporte clearly enjoy poking fun at the middle class world that they themselves inhabit. The play premiered in Paris as Le Prenom in 2010, and this translation by director Jeremy Sams not only moves the action from Paris to Peckham but also strives to make the whole feel of it more English. The first half initially feels more like a French dinner party, as everyone engages in a philosophical argument about the rights and wrongs of the name proposed for Anna’s baby. But this is England, so it all gets rather out-of-control and emotional. Academic, liberal-minded Peter becomes thuggish, and everyone reveals opinions they have politely been keeping hidden. The second half ratchets up the comedy as more surprises emerge and the characters have to adjust to a new reality.
Comic timing is razor sharp throughout. Joe Thomas shines as the wonderful/awful Vincent, who seems in control of the situation but is in for a shock of his own. Summer Strallen carries off the role of Anna with style, convincing you that she is just the sort of woman who could keep Vincent under control with a single look. The contrasting frumpiness of Laura Patch and Bo Poraj is maybe slightly overdone (would she really wear those shoes with that dress?), but they convey an all too realistic picture of a tired relationship, which gives the play a rather dark tone under the comedy. Alex Gaumond is a benign Carl, whose long friendship with the other characters feels real. Francis O’Connor’s set design seems spot-on – a bare brick, Peckham warehouse conversion where edgy stylishness is losing the battle with family life.