Matt Magill is thoroughly spooked by the nerve-shredding play based on Susan Hill's dark novelWritten by Matthew Magill on 26th May 2017
Review: ‘What’s in a Name?’ at the Birmingham Rep
It turns out that there is a great deal in a name... 'What's in a Name' at the Birmingham Rep explores the world of domesticity, family, relationships and the tensions that surround them
“The play reveals the “explosive” tensions and truths behind relationships
What’s in a Name? invites the audience to a dinner party which reveals the “explosive” tensions and truths behind relationships, as the value of a name is questioned. This dinner party, was well-worth attending as the cast was composed of well-known actors from television. The friendship group was based around siblings Vincent and Elizabeth, who were played by Nick Harman (Eastenders) and Sarah Hadland (Miranda). Olivia Poulet (The Thick of It), Jamie Glover (Waterloo Road) and Raymond Coulthard (Emmerdale) also made up this small cast who were unfortunately outshone by the script. Based on the original French comedy Le Prénom by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière, Jeremy Sams adapted the play for its UK premiere in Birmingham.
The show began with Harman entering the stage as an overwhelmingly cheery and irritating narrator, presenting each of the characters to the audience. His role as narrator was so full of charisma, even his subtle movements initially proved to be distracting from the other actors, even when he remained silent. Harman’s transformation into Vincent, a high-flying estate agent who’s similarly “a bit of an arse”, was more of a saviour for the storyline than a surprise. Vincent’s characterisation flourished throughout the show as he tricked his friends into believing he would name his child after the Nazi dictator, undoubtedly creating the most hilarious section of the play.
Incredibly, Hadland left the audience applauding mid-performance after Elizabeth’s extensive ‘rant’ as an overworked mother seemingly came out of nowhere. This was particularly impressive with regards to her tone of voice and facial expressions, although was only comedic in context of the stereotype.
“Many jokes appeared over-rehearsed, unauthentic, and even predictable
Anna (Poulet), the mother of Vincent’s child, primarily added to the tension of the scene whilst Peter (Glover), Elizabeth’s husband, and Carl (Coulthard), the effeminate pianist, were central to bringing a dramatic anger-filled comedic twist to the table. Disappointingly, whilst each actor played their role superbly, it was the relationship between actors which let them down. Many jokes appeared over-rehearsed, unauthentic, and even predictable.
The comedy was set in a swanky London flat, around a coffee table and sofa which, whilst impractical for parents of two children, allowed the audience to salivate over the Moroccan cuisine which was served, and see the full impact of the actors’ gestures towards each character. Only the edge of the kitchen could be seen and the set did not change, crucially creating a layer of humour and sense of inclusion in the whole conversation for audiences.
“With its central themes around family and relationships, and the actors being individually talented, this performance had most of the audience laughing
With its central themes around family and relationships, and the actors being individually talented, this performance had most of the audience laughing but is clearly not for all students despite claims everybody can relate to events. However, there is hope the actors will relax into their roles, making the jokes more authentic in later performances. What’s In A Name? made a pleasant evening’s entertainment as is worth watching for a few light-hearted laughs.