Valentine

Tue 25th February – Sat 1st March 2014

reviews

Suzanne Duffy

at 23:40 on 25th Feb 2014

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‘Valentine’ is a riotous and bizarre redefinition of the concepts of theatre and comedy. While I suspect that not all of the audience will have been as enthusiastic about the experience as I was (and it does feel like an experience rather than a straightforward show) I found it immensely refreshing to see something which took such joy in experimentation.

Firstly, a caveat: do not go to this show if you are not a fan of audience participation. You will be asked to blow up balloons. You will be asked to throw things at the cast. It is highly likely that they will utilise pieces of your clothing as props. ‘Valentine’ scoffs at the idea of any kind of barrier between performers and cast, including before the show starts and during the interval. Secondly, it is fairly unlikely that the cast will strictly follow the order of play which you are given when you sit down. The performance I saw was cut short to prevent it overrunning and a couple of sketches were lost or moved in the process of performance. Yet the elasticity of the cast and the form they are creating is half the fun. Either they genuinely don’t care about adhering too closely to an agenda, or they are putting on an elaborate and convincing show of being haphazard. Either way, it is effective and infectious.

Director Matilda Wnek has cannily merged comedy, mime, games, singing and dancing to coax the most out of her excellent cast. Thus the show jumps from hilarity induced from the rubber-faced Alex MacKieth in the ‘Seb Sutcliffe Live’ segment, to the black humour of the ‘Puppy Monologue’, to sheer randomness of ‘Survey’ without disrupting the tone. Actually, perhaps it is more accurate to say that the tone is constantly, intentionally disrupted and the audience has no choice but to go with it. This did lead to a slightly stuttering start as the audience adjusted to the strange things that were expected of them, but by the end it was clear that it only enriched the show further.

Wnek’s direction achieves a rare balance between humour and sincerity, while occasionally blurring the line between the two and creating ambiguity, meaning the audience has to decide. All of the performers were on top form, but special praise must go to the ever delightful Rosa Robson whose constant grin and buoyant, inexhaustible attitude propelled the show along even when she was only sitting on the side-lines. The term innovative is difficult to deserve in the cluttered and diverse Cambridge comedy scene, but this ensemble do deserve it, as well as a lot of credit for taking a risk.

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