The clothes they stood in – Nottingham Playhouse

Screenwriter: Alan Bennett

Adapter: Adrian Scarborough

Director: Adam Penford

It’s been over 25 years since the news of Alan Bennett The clothes they got up in arrived for the first time, and now it appears for the first time on stage, kicking off Nottingham Playhouse’s autumn season. Bennett’s darkly comic story tells the story of Mr & Mrs Ransome, an unremarkable middle-class couple who return from a night at the opera to find their flat has been robbed. Furniture, carpets, light fixtures – and a hot oven containing a sticky chicken casserole. They even – to Mr Ransome’s dismay when he finds out too late – took the toilet paper. As they try to find ways to replace their belongings, they discover things about themselves – should they rebuild everything as before or start over?

This is Adrian Scarborough’s first adapted play, and he has done an excellent job of translating Bennett’s words for the stage, with his trademark dry observational humour. Indeed, it’s a very funny piece, but tinged with more than a poignant twist as Ransome’s relationship is laid bare for them and the audience to behold, along with dreams and grief for missed opportunities.

There’s a lot to love about the play. Robert Jones has created a detailed set that helps get things done despite the obvious challenges it creates for the scene crew to get everything working. The characters are exaggerated but instantly recognizable. Aideen Malone’s lighting works well to create the different locations and settings, and the room has a great distribution.

Writer Adrian Scarborough is best known for his acting skills, and here he appears as Mr. Ransome. He paints a nice picture for us of the stuffy, staid, middle-class man, who is much more interested in his job and the opera than his wife. As we are constantly reminded, as if that explains everything, “I am a lawyer! You feel like a man who has surrounded himself with expensive things and listens to opera because it is expected rather than genuine, and whose ambitions revolve around the acquisition of material possessions. It’s a well-judged and believable performance.

Alongside Scarborough is the wonderful Sophie Thompson as Mrs. Ransome, with an equally comedic, heartbreaking and hopeful performance. She is a woman whose dreams were suppressed before she had time to live them, a butterfly still trapped in her cocoon and not daring to desire the outside world. She is a woman whose behaviors and attitudes were conditioned by her husband, until circumstances forced her to revisit her past life and yearn for the future she might have had. Beautifully done.

The pair are backed by an extremely versatile and talented cast, each playing a number of – very different – ​​characters. Charlie de Melo gives us a classic Asian shopkeeper Mr Anwar, alongside a somewhat incredulous and indifferent policeman. Ned Costello shows his acting skills well with four roles – a young police officer fresh out of the graduate trainee program with a knowledge of literature and police theory but little reality, an insurance appraiser, a storekeeper with a taste for the finer things he can’t afford, and a fitness freak neighbor – all different, all delivered well.

Finally, and almost stealing the show, is Natasha Magigi with performances that will be long remembered. His lady at the laundromat is very funny, and his stereotypical, over-the-top adviser absolutely strikes the money and creates plenty of laughs. To top it all off, the receptionist’s overly brief interpretation on the phone is a marvel, the person we all know at some point and makes us want to tear our hair out in frustration.

It’s a very funny, well-written and beautifully performed piece that received Alan Bennett’s approval. It may be an old book, but it’s like seeing a new play by Bennett. Highly recommended.

Until October 1, 2022


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