Mr and Mrs Sparks and the Emperor's Panda

Tue 11th – Sat 15th February 2014

reviews

Joseph Cooper

at 08:59 on 12th Feb 2014

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'Mr and Mrs Sparks...' is one of the strangest things I have ever seen; a ruggedly entertaining mixture of music, comedy, metatheatre and one or two surprisingly touching moments. I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to watch the performance, but the minute a rather amusing panda entered and began to dance, my evening seemed to get a little bit better in every way – and that's more or less what the entire production does; it is infectiously cheerful and incredibly fun. The cast seemed to enjoy themselves immensely throughout, and their slightly manic enthusiasm rubbed off on the audience. If you want something to cheer you up, irrelevantly lift your spirits, this is the play to see.

The production has an excellent live band which I could listen to all night, and who sparkle on the sidelines throughout the performance. The music, however, is not too dominating, and forms the icing on the cake of witty dialogue and fantastic visual comedy. It is exceedingly silly, but the wonderful narrative structure of the play confesses and moves beyond the silliness, granting it a feeling of adventure, like a favourite children's book. With use of video, sound, music, lighting, actual glitter and acting all crammed in, the show is messily delicious; an impressive mishmash of dramatic techniques and absurdity. The 'mockumentaries' played periodically throughout the show where very funny, strangely because they made the same jokes over and over again. The costumes deserve a mention for their magnificence, and the uncannily well-executed use of wigs.

I think it is undoubtedly the energy of the cast which makes the production work; Guy Clark, Isabel Adomakoh Young and their wonderful one-Panda ensemble Chris Born all give it their all. The vocals were very good, the dance routines rather crazed and the entire production an exuberant, perplexing and joyful occasion. There was a slight ebb and flow, with a couple of scenes dragging. The dialogue, although it had its moments, was not the comic focus, and could be sharper – indeed, the script is not the play's greatest strength, but it does not need to me when it is executed with such a devotion to excitement and energy. There are some truly sparkling, laugh out loud moments too, often induced by wigs, outrageous accents and the wonderfully crafted eccentricities of the characters. The double-role of Adomakoh Young as Mrs Sparks and the devilish Huntley-Morgan was breathlessly entertaining. There are bits of surprisingly black humour too, and how it manages to gloss over jokes about labour camps and the massacre of the Mongolian people, I'm not quite sure – but it does.

And don't even ask me for a plot summary; it was the work of a pair of slightly mad but brilliant minds, and a Panda. Even just the jazz makes it worth going to see. You will emerged confused, but endlessly more cheerful.

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