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Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You at Manchester Royal Exchange

Published by: Caroline May on 16th Dec 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May
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Manchester Royal Exchange is the only game in town for adult theatre-goers this Christmas.  Their Yuletide offering is always an out-and-out comedy, whether that be traditional English farce (See How They Run, 2008), European classic (Cyrano de Bergerac, 2006), or, as with 2005’s Harvey, an American screwball comedy perhaps better known in a black-and-white film version starring James Stewart.

Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You is an absolute fit for the latter category, although this co-production with Told by an Idiot Theatre Company is so extraordinarily physical and theatrical it completely dispels all sepia-tinted memories.  The madcap household of thwarted balletomanes, aspiring playwrights, xylophone-playing printers and exotic animals would be matter enough, but when you throw in a Russian émigré dancing master, an unexpected tax inspector, and most worryingly of all an amateur firework-maker, you can expect things to go with a bang.

Apart from the pyrotechnics, flying ballerinas and animatronic snakes, director Paul Hunter almost turns the play into a Busby Berkeley musical with scene changes re-imagined as dance sequences from The Great American Songbook.  There are endless bits of slapstick and comic business that would have done the Marx Brothers proud, as well as occasional moments of disaster that might just be deliberate.

Outstanding among the frenzy of (deliberate) over-acting are Golda Rosheuvell as the best stage drunk I’ve ever seen, Maggie O’Brien playing Grand Duchess Olga, an exiled aristocrat who now waits tables with sneering condescension, and Miltos Yerolemou in an electrifying performance as the terrifying maitre de ballet.

Paul Hunter takes full advantage of the proximity of the audience to involve them directly in the action - the people in the cheapest seats (the banquettes at the front) probably had the best night of all, which is entirely appropriate for a play that cocks its snook at materialism and wealth.

On the face of it an anti-capitalist screwball comedy might seem a real play for today.  But You Can’t Take It With You fails to answer the paradox at its own heart: true, it takes a swing at Wall Street bankers like Mr Kirby (Martin Hyder with a comb-over hairdo that deserves its own programme credit), but has nothing to say about Grandpa Vanderhof (an avuncular Christopher Benjamin) who maintains his family’s unconventional lifestyle by living off the substantial rents of his buy-to-let property portfolio; and his elaborate tax evasion scam is more or less eulogised, the dirty plutocrat!

Laura Hopkins’ set-on-wheels and Sian Williams’ choreography are at the heart of the show’s success.  Judging by the queues at the box office on press night, this is Manchester’s answer to One Man, Two Guvnors.  Smug in the knowledge that I’m already booked in again for January, I advise you to buy your tickets at once.

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU is on until Saturday 14 January 2012
Prices £9-£33
Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm
Matinees: Wed @ 2.30, Sat @ 4pm
Christmas & New Year performances vary - see website
Box Office: 0161 833 9833
www.royalexchange.co.uk

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