Saturday, November 11, 2017


LipService Theatre 
at the Cramphorn Theatre
for The Reviews Hub

LipService have a dedicated following for their unique brand of literary fun – it’s good to see them bringing their tour of Mr Darcy Loses the Plot to the Cramphorn, their first visit here for some years.
It’s a two-woman band; like all their shows this spiffing spoof is written and performed by Maggie Fox – the loftier of the two, a “fine tall presence” as our Mr Darcy – and Sue Ryding. Like Thrills and Quills, their other show currently on the road, it draws its inspiration from the oeuvre of Jane Austen. But other women writers worm their way into the proceedings – Gaskell, Potter and Du Maurier inter alia – as the character of Darcy flows from the Austen pen. It transpires that he is less than happy with the way his role is developing – the dashing Mr Wickham seems to be getting all the romantic action. In a fit of frustration, seeking a more exciting storyline, he finds himself in Manderley having close encounters with Mrs Danvers (she’s just like Judith Anderson in the movie) and the mousey second Mrs de Winter.
The intimate setting is furnished with screens and ottomans adorned by quilts, contributed by a cottage industry of devoted, creative fans. There’s a multimedia element, too, with the Netherfield ballroom sequence especially effective, and a chance to relive that notorious scene by the lake. The video inserts work brilliantly, with the live action blending almost seamlessly with the version on screen. The “outdoor swimming” is especially surreal, with a Lego Darcy, homespun special effects, and our hero stranded on the beach at Manderley, before being tempted back to the Parsonage for his big scene, The Proposal. The mobile screens effect the transitions between one scene and the next. The two-dimensional Mr Bingham is a cardboard cut-out before his character is fleshed out, and much use is made of puppets and dolls to people the stage. With Wickham’s teenage groupies, for example.
Virtue is continually made of necessity – the modest means and the makeshift effects are celebrated. Jasper the dog, for instance, is much funnier than one could imagine, not to mention Bingley melting into the background, his waistcoat a perfect match for the wallpaper. Irony and in-jokes abound. We occasionally stray into the present day – the first writer we meet is modern, penning this very piece. She has a nice, if irrelevant, riff on cloud storage. Other references, while amusing, seem a little dated: Basil Brush, say, or “Man at V&A”.
But the comedy is endlessly inventive – the chamber pot, mercifully unseen, Bingley and Darcy struggling to have a convincing man-chat, a candlestick telephone ringing in a handbag. Mrs Gaskell, dark satanic mills belching smoke behind her head, uses the wicked Wickham not in North and South but in Mary Barton. Mrs Potter makes him a scarlet-clad foxy gentleman eager to make a meal of the excruciatingly upper-middle-class Jemima Puddleduck.
It’s all very silly, great fun and more than a little bonkers. It probably works best for those fortunate enough to have read all the books in question. But there’s a wonderful chemistry between these two very funny women, and their warm, generous performances leave us all feeling a little more educated, and richly entertained.

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