Whatever Happened to the Lead?

WILL POPPLEWELL likes what he sees in this new, self-aware comedy.

Corpus henry wilkinson new writing whatever happened to the lead Will Popplewell

Corpus Playrooms, 7 PM, May 20th – 24th, £6/5.

Whatever Happened to the Lead tells the story of how James Redgrave’s celebration of his return to theatre goes horribly, and hilariously, wrong. Featuring an old flame, a vicious mother, and Julie Andrews, Redgrave’s evening takes turn after amusing turn for the worse, culminating in a dead body and a pie in someone’s face. Yes, the show is indeed that random, but in the best way possible. This new student writing by Henry Wilkinson is a thoroughly enjoyable hour and a half.

The show calls to mind Fawlty Towers in its style, deploying a similar kind of humour to similar success. It plays upon several clichés, often in innovative ways, using contrasting characters particularly well. Similarly, the use of the semi-offstage phone is an intelligent directorial decision, and there is a healthy balance of straight-up gags and funny lines worked into the dialogue. The student writing equals the comedy of many professional plays, and despite some clunkier dialogue at times, the show as a whole flows well and kept the audience engaged.

The acting is genuinely strong across the entire cast, and it is clear that each cast member is talented in both scripted comedy and improvisation. The latter especially comes across in their consistently amusing and effective handling of several opening night ‘birthing pains’ – the repeated loss of Frank’s moustache springs to mind. Molly O’Connor and Paul Tait are a splendid double act as Emma and Jack Johnson, and Ash Rosen strkes all the right notes as the gormless James Redgrave, also showing an accomplished talent in how he sets up the jokes for other actors and actresses. However, it is Lily Lindon who impresses most, as the wonderfully intrusive Giles, delivering each line with infectious humour. Lindon also triumphs in her cameo of Julie Andrews, leaving me in stitches and eliciting a spontaneous round of applause from the audience upon her exit.

WHTTL

The device of breaking the fourth wall is often used in the Corpus Playrooms, to varying effect. It is refreshing to see this production take the convention and use it in a variety of ways, some of which I have never seen before. I won’t ruin the gags for you here, but they play them unusually well, and bring a quirky self-awareness to the show. This self-awareness goes perhaps a little too far in the chaos of the second act; whilst remaining hilarious for the majority of the act, the action on stage is less cohesive than that of the first act.

If I have a few criticisms the show, these would be around the usual opening night blunders, including the music being played too loud over the actors during act one. That said, it seemed that the sound technician had fixed this by the second act, so I have confidence that this problem will not persist through the remainder of the show’s run. The staging is at times unclear and forced, arguably a result of the more challenging Corpus space, but this is a minor point and doesn’t detract from a highly enjoyable piece.

Whatever Happened to the Lead exemplifies intelligent student writing, and a lively brand of student humour. Featuring witty performances, great writing, and a wonderfully absurd plot, this is one of the funniest nights out I have had in Cambridge, and a show I would highly recommend to lighten your pre-exam period.