Monday, April 22

Village Idiot – Theatre Royal Stratford East

Village Idiot is a sincere, hearty, and refreshing story about two families and the different needs for freedom, independence and community. Riddled with stereotypes and generalisations, we watch the prejudice crumble under the light of community spirit. Presented by Ramps On The Moon, the portrayal of people with disabilities is acute and uncompromising, with strong characters, showing the liberties and infringements that they deal with.

We see the characters at cross roads in their lives as a high-speed railway line being built forces them to up and leave. All of this is administered by Peter who has no qualms about evicting his grandma and brother. With lots of different goings on, the grandma, Barbara somehow finds out, peering through binoculars and causes chaos as she spills the secrets. In between the scenes, the village fair is occurring with glitzy glamour and splendour, hosted by Harry.

I loved the strong characters and the little insights into their lives from Deb’s enthusiasm for Rasta Mouse, Harry’s wacky Scarecrow and all the rural activities mentioned. You could get a sense of their wider community and how that has shaped them as individuals.

The script was consistently funny, quirky and bold and the casts’ fabulous comic timing was so perfectly attuned to each of their characters which made it all the more entertaining. Samson Hawkins’ writing has a randomness that stylistically makes sense and worked well with the upbeat tempo and the plot. Nadia Falls’ direction also cultivated a convivial atmosphere with the celebratory fair which offset the dark humour.

The second half was slightly confusing with a sudden focus on nature but with incredible costumes. At some points, movement in scenes was slightly static.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about Barbara (Eileen Nicholas) as she seemed fun-loving but then began spewing out racist generalisations and only seemed to do whatever she could to protect herself. This is one example of subversion in the play which is mirrored by the fairytale wood setting designed to a gorgeous, dream-like effect by Lily Arnold. The village is far from Utopic and the characters explore what a happy ending looks like for them.

Liam (Joseph Langdon) is a fencer, brother to Debbie who has always lived in Syresham. Langdon conveys Liam’s intelligence and earnestness and has a real spontaneity in his delivery. Harry (Maximilian Fairley) had an effectively blunt tone that gave a truthfulness and comedy and was a huge backbone for the feel of the play. Fairley’s depiction of Harry’s struggles with intimacy and with being understood were conveyed with sensitivity and he engaged with the audience in a charismatic way. Debbie (Faye Wigan) is independent, mature and wise. Wigan conveyed female sexuality in a bold, unapologetic way. Hawkins’ writing of Peter is cleverly done as an initial empathy for the outsider becomes distaste for someone wholly self-centred. Philip Labey wonderfully embodies the different sides to Peter. Kevin (Mark Benton) is Debbie’s Dad who has fierce, unrelenting banter with his son but is nurturing and gentle with Debbie. Hawkins examines the effects of both of these parenting styles with each child. Benton’s comedic timing is grounded and sharp, and he skilfully conveys subtlety and nuance in emotions as this boisterous, loud character.

With a fun bunch of characters, witty writing and never knowing whether the next line will make you laugh or sigh, Village Idiot should make you giggle and hopefully see freedom and disability in a new light.

Playing until 6th May, https://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/village-idiot

Reviewer: Riana Howarth

Reviewed: 19th April 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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