Full review from edition 4.
Wild hair and big noses; lipstick smeared over plastered faces; multi-instrumentalists in outrageous costumes; ingénues and hubris; scandal and intrigue; corruption and treachery in high places; unrequited love and the free kind, too: another evening passes at The Square and Compass.
Once again, The Rude Mechanical Theatre Company put Worth Matravers on their noble itinerary during a seemingly endless tour of destinations that few living outside of them will ever have heard of. This time they burst upon the village with the phantasmagoria of music and wit that is Who Saw Marjory Daw? Playing to a packed marquee behind the village inn on a cold and blustery summer’s evening, the troupe kept an audience of usually-disruptive elderly children (most of us having seen the better side of forty five) absolutely rapt.
As the tent billowed and heaved like a creature from folklore, restrained by ropes and in a great deal of pain, the travelling troupe unfurled a magic ribbon of a story inside its belly. And what a story! From the explosive scene-setter of the plot-pivotal Daily Globe newsroom to its gleefully plagiarised final line, playwright and composer Pete Talbot conducts a wildly surreal and satirical trip, man.
Georgina Field revels as the guileless heroine, rooky reporter Agnes Church, doggedly pursuing Becky Barry’s enigmatic model, Marjory Daw, who she’s sure she saw, through a labyrinthine plotline populated by politicians, moguls, journalists, henchmen, hippies, despots, MI6 and – everybody’s favourite – the Sneaky Russians! Allies include Agnes’ admirer, press photographer and Vespa-mounted mod, Trevor Lovelady, played with vulnerable Northern Soul attitude by Rowan Talbot, and her misguided politico-fop brother, anxious Gerald, played by Elliot Quinn. The invisible terrier deserves a credit of his own; Agnes’ Robbie to Tintin’s Snowy, we could almost see him.
The plot has all the twists you could hope for, enabling Talbot to get his hands dirty with the back story – government collusion in international arms deals with an oppressive regime under the nose of a complicit and powerful media tycoon. Where does he find his inspiration?
Baddies outnumbered the goodies looking, as always, the more fun to play, yet none of the actors missed out on the joy: twenty five characters were played by eight cast members in a flurry of entrances, exits and costume changes. The delightfully sneering Ian Harris as Prime Minister George Hardaker – a vile piece of work with perhaps more than a vague resemblance to the actual incumbent – raised a few chuckles from the Left as did newspaper magnate Murdo Denial (no less), played by Simon Spencer-Hyde in bombastic form. Simon’s effluviantly brilliant Colonel Ma’mu Musami provided the most eye-popping spectacle of the musical – if only by virtue of having the most extraordinary costume in a wardrobe stuffed with extraordinary costumes. And what dark recesses must an actor explore to reach the megalomaniacal heights required to wear it? Rubber-glove epaulettes on ridiculously giant shoulders and rows of kitchen-utensil medals are symbolic of the hysterical fatuousness of tyrants and hysterically funny too. All the costumes were of larger-than-life, puppet-like fashion and a little cliché-Rastafarian. A sartorial tour de force and a text book lesson in versatile costume staging.
No expense was spared on sound effects; in fact, no expense at all as these were provided in their glorious entirety by the players themselves. Uproarious vocalisations of motorbikes, doors, dogs, helicopters (particularly challenging) and more must surely have endeared the most wizened of cynics to the childlike joys of theatre. The magical mystery bus trip (and trip it clearly was) risked breaking into a conga line with the audience joining in – which more than likely happens in some of those less-inhibited places on the mainland.
There was plenty of post-ironic actor-to-audience cueing for any who had literally lost the plot – which sometimes included the actors themselves, not surprisingly; Talbot makes his thesps sweat for their after-show tot of rum. But there were, in fact, few genuinely lost lines and these provided a first-date kind of bonding experience, none of us sure (for a few precious moments) where we were going with the prevailing conversation. Yes, we will meet again – but not too sure about the parents.