BWW Review: DAPHNE, TOMMY, THE COLONEL AND PHIL, Union Theatre
An aged couple discover that their seemingly perfect marriage is not all it appears to be. As the past comes back to haunt them, secrets surface and their lives are changed forever in this slightly surreal domestic comedy. But is farce back in fashion or does it fall flat here?
Put a man in drag and it's an easy route to comedy. Clifford Hume embraces his multi-roles as Daphne and the Colonel, demonstrating impressive range as two completely contrasting characters and executing great comic timing in both depictions. With his movements, vocal techniques and facial expressions, he is convincing and entertaining throughout.
David Henry as his lover and former comrade offers an engaging performance, conveying a range of emotions in nuanced ways, and the actors complement one another well. The arrival of Phil injects new energy into the play, with writer and director Edwin Ashcroft delivering a comically heightened performance as the assassin who's finally found the Colonel. Ashcroft is clearly having fun here and his interactions with Henry in particular are a joy to watch.
Despite its humour, there is the serious subtext of war staying with someone who's served, and this is touched upon well, bringing a fleeting moment of poignancy to proceedings. Ashcroft does succeed in establishing himself as an observant writer in the subtler moments. The themes of identity, secrets and lies, as well as age, are all aptly explored - but soon swept away in the tide of farcical silliness. If you run with it, you might find yourself enjoying a light-hearted evening, yet most likely yearning for a more rapid succession of laughs.
The play is at times as convoluted as its title, with a great deal of exposition employed in the first act. Yes, we need to know certain information, but at the heart of good drama is the transmission of facts and backstory through action and characterisation.
The dialogue is engaging and humorous at times, with a number of laugh-out-loud moments generated, however it defaults into the dreary and stilted on too many occasions. With such a wealth of theatre on offer in London, contemporary audiences expect a great deal, and although the acting and direction serves its purpose here, the production ultimately feels strangely out of touch and forgettable.
Ashcroft is a young artist, and he should be praised for his creation. But this seems like an early draft for what we might have in store through his future pursuits.
Photo credit: Digby St. John