It is very tempting, and I have been guilty of this myself, for film and theatre reviewers to grab a clever line and run with it. Even better if you can bounce of the title.
I remember a film called I am a Camera. The Time magazine reviewer had a two word verdict: No Leica. You have to be a camera buff to get that one.
Then they cast a handsome young blond actor named Jeff Hunter in a remake of The Bible called King of Kings. It got panned. One reviewer said it should have been called I was a Teenage Jesus.
As a callow teenage reporter I was sent to review sob singer Johnny Ray. I was so smart I can still remember my opening line: ‘It was a night, oh what a night it was, it really was such a night’. They were the lyrics from one of the Bobby Sox hero’s hit sings.
And then there was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It’s theatrical folklore now and probably apocryphal but some jaundiced critic supposedly saw A Funny Thing Happened… and wrote a three word review: ‘No it didn’t’.
Clever but that certainly didn’t apply to the latest version of Forum which opened at Her Majesty’s on Saturday night.
A lot of funny things happened. A lot of brilliant things happened largely because of the performance of one Geoffrey Rush. The man is a chameleon on stage or film. We saw a true tour de force – to genuinely apply that over-used theatrical term.
He’s the first person on stage, almost never leaves it, and leads a genuinely star-studded cast of top flight Aussies.Talk about a toga full of talent. Michael Butel, Gerry Connelly, Magda Zubanski and Shane Bourne.
Plus the courtesans. What a team of buxom wenches. One was eye-wateringly dextrous, the Gemini Twins gave every male in the audience a new interest in astrology and, as perfectly as she played the dumb blonde sacrificial maiden, nobody could surely believe that Christie Whelan’s character was still a virgin.
It’s a wonderful farce, a play within a play, and director Simon Phillips obviously gave them all riding instructions to go over the top – and as far as they liked.
It made it the campest Forum I’ve ever seen. Despite that, Rush showed again that a great comedic role can be as hard, if not harder than playing tragedy.
He joins a group of legends who have played the role of the scheming slave, Pseudolus, who’ll do anything to be freed. Stars like Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, and Nathan Lane. Even Whoopi Goldberg.
It’s slapstick, it’s vaudeville, it’s bawdy. It’s a great night out.
Footnote: A show which starts with the masks of comedy and tragedy was fitting on Saturday night because it was a happy and sad event. The Queen of PR, Suzie Howie, who would make this show her last of about 600 PR events, missed her first opening night in decades. Suzie died on Thursday night. We were all still getting our heads around the sad news when walking the red carpet.
Director Simon Phillips came on stage at the final curtain to join the cast in a tribute that brought tears to many eyes. It was a fitting and moving moment.