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You Can't Take It With You Reviewed, The Royal Exchange

Kevin Bourke appreciates a funny and warm play

Published on December 13th 2011.


You Can't Take It With You Reviewed, The Royal Exchange

THE Royal Exchange set something of a benchmark for non-panto festive season shows more than a decade ago with their brilliant, anarchic take on the Marx Brothers' ‘Animal Crackers’. 

It's all taken at a less breakneck pace than ‘Animal Crackers’ to allow us to genuinely fall in love with this family of superficially strange but actually idealistic and endearing characters. 

The spirit of that fondly-remembered show hovers over this effervescent production, also adapted from a hugely successful George Kaufman play/film and even, as it happens, sharing one cast member in the shape of Miltos Yeromelou, who I might have described as scene-stealing were this not such a big-hearted ensemble piece. 

This play is directed by Paul Hunter of ‘Told By An Idiot’, and is set in the New York home of the bohemian-to-a-fault Sycamore family. Hunter’s larger-than-life style is ideally suited to a dynamic production within which theatrical conventions are playfully subverted. 

The Sycamore’s world is full of play-writing, ballet-dancing, xylophones and firework-making. There are snakes hanging on the hat-stand, and frankfurters and tinned salmon from the corner store make for a feast.

It’s a place where proceedings are likely to be interrupted at any moment by a wildly-gesticulating, Stalin-hating Russian dance teacher, a heroically drunk actress, a lovestruck accordionist, a real Russian Grand Duchess who just happens to be working as a waitress in the city, or various puzzled Government flunkies, alarmed at the family's utter indifference to society's norms. 

Benignly overseeing this mad house of love is Grandpa, Martin Vanderhof (Christopher Benjamin), who simply opted out of gainful employment years ago and now spends his time around the house dispensing heart-over-head wisdom and absently tending his snakes. Also in residence are Penelope and Paul Sycamore (Joanne Howarth and Sam Parks), respectively obsessed with play-writing and firework-making, the latter noisy and dangerous preoccupation aided and abetted by Mr De Pinna (Martin Hyder), who had simply called on the house one day years before to deliver ice and ended up staying. 

Every gesture by Essie (Sophie Russell) shows how smitten she is with ballet-dancing even though her teacher Boris Kolenkhov (Miltos Yeremelou) confides that she ‘stinks’ at it. Ed (Adam Burton), meanwhile, constantly demonstrates striking ineptitude on his beloved xylophone, while housekeeper Rheba (Golda Rosheveul, who also appears as the actress Gay Wellington) and her lover Donald (Detnon Chikura) are charged with dashing around to keep the family fed and content.

Sophie Russell As Essie And Hugh Skinner As Tony Kirby In You CAN't Take It With You By George S Kaufman And Moss Hart %28Royal Exchange Until 14 January%29 Photo - Jonathankeenan - CopySophie Russell As Essie And Hugh Skinner As Tony Kirby In You Can't Take It With You By George S Kaufman And Moss Hart, Royal Exchange Until 14 January. Photo - Jonathan Keenan  

Of course (just like in The Munsters), there's one apparently normal member of the household, daughter Alice (Sarah Ridgeway), who not only holds down a day job as a secretary on Wall Street but has also fallen for the boss' son Tony Kirby (Hugh Skinner), and he for her. It's only when Tony's strait-laced parents (Martin Hyder again and Maggie O'Brien), he a joyless Wall Street financier, she a dabbler in spiritualism, come to call, though, that the mayhem really gets going. 

It's all taken at a less breakneck pace than ‘Animal Crackers’ to allow us to genuinely fall in love with this family of superficially strange but actually idealistic and endearing characters. 

Heck, even the Wall Street banker gets to show a softer side, something which you suspect a contemporary writer might not dare to do now that their greed has brought the West to it’s knees.

There are one or two issues with sight-lines and standard lamps but, more generally, the play uses the in-the-round staging and the Exchange's sometime-obsession with ‘flying in’ props to good effect. It's a hugely entertaining show that genuinely works across the generations, and one that fairly fizzes with festive spirit.

'You Can't Take It With You' is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until 14 January

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