Review: THE IDEA, Jack Studio Theatre

A pleasant if somewhat slight operetta from a very young Gustav Holst

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Guest Blog: Nia Morais on Her First Play IMRIE, Welsh Fantasy and The Dark FantasticWhen Gustav Holst (yes, 'Planets' Gustav Holst) was 22, he wrote crazy little operetta with his friend Fritz B Hart which is listed (if you can find it anywhere) as 'for children'. Perhaps that says more about the Victorians' attitude to children (mini-adults lucky not to be sent up chimneys for a farthing a day) than the piece itself, which has plenty of Gilbert & Sullivan and not a little Monty Python in its madcap hour or so. There's a soupçon of Ionesco stirred into the mix, if you wish to elevate the brow.

A rather ineffectual king is tiring of roly-poly for dessert and bickering with his 'Queen of Hearts' queen, when the previously ill Prime Minister bursts into court with an idea. Since the men have made a mess of things, why not hand over the reins of power to the women? Soon a soldier is knitting and a servant flinging a rifle around while the monarchs also find their own role reversal less than satisfactory. The Prime Minister (unlike some) realises his idea was not so good and agrees that things would be better if everything went back to the way it was. (One presumes no tatty blond wig was available for the PM's costume).

It's all a jolly jape that director, Paula Chitty, delivers in under an hour, on a tiny set not much bigger than the queen's billowing skirt. The music, indeed the whole operetta, never quite shakes off its student roots, but there are some excellent tunes and decent jokes poking through the undergraduate vibe.

Valeria Perboni has a lot of fun with the queen (although I was permanently on the edge of my seat worrying about the set when she walked about it regally) and she sings beautifully at the correct volume for a house of this size - Ms Perboni could have blown our ears off I'm sure, so thank you! Ross Hobson is also never less than amusing as the king, all middle-aged exasperation and hopeless longing for a quiet life. Laurie O'Brien and Patrick Vincent (who arranged the music) provide the tunes, for some of which you feel Arthur Sullivan should really have filed a plagiarism case.

It's not a major work, more of a curio and one feels that there's a more energetic, more clowningly funny piece that never quite escapes the cluttered set, the physical comedy not matching the absurdity of the libretto and costumes. But Irrational Theatre have created a diverting evening and one that shows that, as Sir Humphrey Appleby would suggest, Prime Ministers should be always be discouraged from having ideas at any time, a thought that crossed my mind queuing for petrol en route to Brockley.

The Idea is at the Jack Studio Theatre until 9 October

Photo Bob Simpson


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From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to see so much of his home city's theatre. He writes about ... (read more about this author)



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