Standing on a floor utterly littered with newspapers, crisp packets, wrappers and heaven knows what else, a musician plays ‘O Sole Mio’ on his accordion. This is what greets the audience of Theatre of Heaven & Hell's comedic performance of Dario Fo's One Was Nude & One Wore Tails, performed at the Hen & Chickens Theatre Bar.
A meaningful setup of biased newspaper articles, information pamphlets and branded packaging gave a loose underlying hint to the themes of this play: social class, financial entitlement, and prejudice and its ubiquity, described by Theatre of Heaven & Hell as societal “pigeon-holing”. And accompanying autumn leaves scattered around the stage seemed to connote a need for change. Whilst the accordionist seemed to bear no significance to the rest of the performance, he enabled a certain ambience of playfulness and provocation, communicating with audience members, lurking behind latecomers and following them to their seats, adding to the enjoyable “rowdy pub” sort of vibe.
The performance starts with a corny musical number by a group in orange high-vis attire, rallied by an upbeat change in music from the accordionist – an entertaining and funny foreshadowing of the comical and light-hearted remains of the show. The next scene begins with a wacky and humorous display of slapstick, highlighting the grappling relationship between the slow-witted Roadsweeper (Nicholas Bright) and his philosophical peer, also, rather paradoxically, named Roadsweeper (Brian Eastty).
From this scene onward, a relentless performance by Bright, really capturing the folly of his character. When becoming the Ambassador/Count, Bright embodies an efficacious transformation, taking on a haughty, somewhat flamboyant persona. The comedic relationship between him and Naked Man (Darren Ruston) was established well, equally humorous and silly.
Elena Clements, playing Woman, retained a comical dryness about her throughout, highlighting the mundane lifeway of her character accustomed to fibbing to simply get by. Man in Evening Dress, played by Jake Francis, was characterised just as finely, having musteline mannerisms which coincided well with an eccentric top hat and polka-dot tie, contrasting with the banal dress of the Roadsweeper to imply his self-acclaimed importance. Equally, an intriguing performance by Ruston. Whilst only his head was visible, Ruston's expressiveness captured his intentions and identity well.
The only characterisation I did not favour was that of the Patrolman (also Brian Eastty). Whilst a bland comportment fitted well his role as Roadsweeper's peer, a transformation was imperative for his role as Patrolman, and this was not achieved. However, something notable – and perhaps only specific to the performance I saw – was the loss of his stick-on moustache. Whilst one would usually ignore mishaps like this whilst performing, a clear recognition and exaggeration of this detail from Eastty and Bright commanded the audience's attention and risibility wonderfully.
Overall, a very funny and entertaining performance. Whilst the politics of this play were not made too provoking or interrogative and were hence left contained in the world of the narrative, the themes were conveyed clearly through good characterisation and a high physical energy kept throughout. Whilst the props were few, as one would assume from a setting like this, they were effectual in their extravagance and eccentricity, providing the performance with admirable humour and seasoning.