UPDATE: At the request of 'The Heretical Historians' the below post is now a review after all, and published here: www.londontheatre1.com/news/177898/review-of-the-trial-of-le-singe-at-the-space-arts-centre/
“Ladies and gentlemen, and esteemed miscellaneous,” beams Larry (Matthew Jameson), a remarkably (and, I suspect, possibly deliberately) topical opening, in the light of a decision by Transport for London, publicised in the press hours before the performance I attended, to stop using ‘ladies and gentlemen’ in its public address announcements, in favour of ‘hello everyone’ or similar gender-neutral phrasing.
Events proper in The Trial of Le Singe begin in the North Sea in 1815. Sea spit immerses the audience (quite how would be revealing too much) before characters start speaking in faux French, like something out of ‘Allo ‘Allo. Take umbrage or take pleasure, whatever your disposition. Not for nothing is this theatrical group called ‘The Heretical Historians’, and with no monarch (of whatever kingdom) present, treason and/or being ‘sent to the Tower’ were never on the cards: they really were at liberty to say whatever they liked.
So when a question of money arose, ‘Atless ‘Arry (Leah Kirby) points out that we are the vicinity of Canary Wharf, so one of the financial institutions should be able to assist in securing some cash. Breaches of the fourth wall of this nature added to the anarchic nature of proceedings, which seemed to lurch between nineteenth-century manners of speaking to contemporary standards of securing a fair hearing in the actual trial of Le Singe (Salvatore Scarpa).
There were times, I must admit, when I didn’t have the foggiest idea what precisely was going on. Lord Garrington (a suitably dapper Lloyd McDonagh) arrives at a pub called The New Red Lion, subheaded “a future JD Wetherspoon”. The use of video projections ensures the setting of each scene was clear. The production also finds ways of acknowledging the limitations of staging a play. “Where are you going to find sand in London?” sneers ‘Arry, spreading around what the audience must assume to be sand for a scene at the beach. Poor ‘Arry. He keeps forgetting the show is set in Hartlepool.
It’s cleverly written, even for those who aren’t particularly appreciative of the show’s style of humour. Le Singe, when he finally takes to the witness stand, proves himself more eloquent than everyone else, such that Larry, who has now assumed the role of the judge in this seemingly impromptu trial, can only reply that he has no idea what the apparent Frenchman is talking about.
Elsewhere, there’s something of the stage adaptation of The 39 Steps about this production, both in terms of its purposefully cheap set and almost relentlessly brisk pacing. Sally (Bertie Cox) is a tribute, in effect, to a bygone era in which male actors played female characters. This being a comedy, a lot of action is hammed up, but it’s done with great aplomb. And everything you’ve just read doesn’t constitute a review. I saw this production as the second part to a double-bill, but was only really invited to review the first; I was, unlike some others, too polite to leave the theatre at the interval. Let’s just say I don’t regret having stayed behind.
This production has an ongoing Kickstarter project, running to 23 July 2017. For further details please visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/306395623/the-trial-of-le-singe-the-heretical-historians
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.