Friday, 3 February 2017

What's in a Name?

Birmingham Rep
2nd February 2017, matinee

Moroccan buffets, converted lofts, children called Gooseberry and Apollinaire. The trendy lefties have moved into the Rep in this dinner party comedy based on Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliére’s French play and film Le Prénom. Set at Elizabeth and Pete’s dinner party to congratulate her brother and his wife’s baby scan, the dinner soon turns sour when Vincent suggests they’re naming the baby Adolphe after a French novel. After being told that he can’t name a baby after Hitler by the mortified Peter and Lizzie, he changes the spelling to the more well-known ‘Adolf’, convinced that his son’s excellence will defy Hitler’s reputation. He later reveals he was joking, but this leads to a series of arguments. As you’d expect with this genre, home truths soon surface and relationships are tested. Beneath all the tajines, fancy plonk and swanky pad, they’re miserable, nursing grudges about turned down PhDs and marital tension. Some plot twists and jokes are predictable but it’s a timely and funny harpooning of the perceived cosmopolitan lifestyle.

The left has perhaps been somewhat underrepresented in the media lately, and it’s interesting to consider where What’s in a Name? fits into that. It ridicules the faux hipster left (perhaps the right wing’s idea of the left) but how far can this play really go to satirise them when it probably simultaneously assuages us, the audience? It may be an easy watch and we soon slip into chuckling at couscous but that isn’t the play’s fault. Indeed, Jeremy Sams’ adroit adaptation (superbly transposed to contemporary London) is interested in stereotypes and how we come across. Of course the characters think that Carl, the camp trombonist who has lived in San Francisco, is gay (despite being one of their closest friends). And of course they adopt a Scottish accent when enacting stinginess. It is Daily Mail reading and Mercedes driving Vincent that says he doesn’t care how he comes across, refusing to read the Guardian to simply make him look superior. Overall, this is an astute class comedy about how every word and outward image is loaded with political meaning.

Dramatically, What’s in a Name? may offer nothing new but its satirising of the middle classes is as funny as an Ayckbourn play or Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage. Sams’ production is finely tuned ensuring that the dinner party platitudes believably descend into farce. Nigel Harman does a solid job as the antagonising Vincent, winding his old friends up with Fuhrer forename proposals, although you have to question the character’s morbid sense of humour. Sarah Hadland and Jamie Glover (the latter being well experience in farce after Noises Off) are also impressive as the married couple stuck in middle class inertia, one not happy with her job and the other not happy with his family life.

Complete with a mini Shard in the background and a (I imagine) rather neat way of getting Nigel Harman from upstairs to the front door in a matter of seconds, Francis O’Connor’s handsome rooftop apartment design has come straight from a home improvement magazine. Fairy lights on the patio, bespoke lifestyle units, and uber chic furniture make up this (*Kirsty Allsopp voice*) ‘cosy’ starter home.

What’s in a Name? deserves a longer run and would easily be at home in the West End as a refreshing alternative to another upcoming revival of Abigail’s Party.


What’s in a Name? runs at Birmingham Rep until 11th February, 2017.

Sarah Hadland, Olivia Poulet, Raymond Coulthard, Jamie Glover and Nigel Harman. Photo by Robert Day

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