Bunbury Is Dead

Sat 2nd – Sat 23rd August 2014

reviews

Lucy Diver

at 08:38 on 6th Aug 2014

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Several audience members walked out of Bunbury Is Dead, and I would have liked to. This script attempts to take the ‘greatest hits’ of the complete works of Oscar Wilde and remix them into a new plot, complete with all the archetypal figures: infamous dandy, effete artist, stern aunt, flighty society girl. The twist is a scheming butler – and if this is supposed to be a commentary on the ‘Butler did it’ cliché, it’s not clear enough.

Wilde may be famous for his witty aphorisms, but all of his original works have a lot more to offer beneath the sparkling surface: rich ambiguities, social satire and commentaries on the politics of art and sexuality. Take away the cake, and just leave the cherries on top, and you get a pound of glacé cherries: sickly, overwhelming and unappealing.

That being said, the script, despite its lack of depth, is a reasonably interesting idea. The acting unfortunately highlights the writing’s faults. All of the cast are extraordinarily overemphatic, pronouncing their lines with so much gusto it’s hard to laugh at Wilde’s wit, and occasionally, even to hear it. Given it’s the main drawcard of the writing, the misplaced enthusiasm certainly doesn’t help.

The über-posh accents they attempt are so stylized and stereotypical, it’s impossible to have any sympathy for the characters, who come to resemble caricatures. Towards the end, we are told that ‘Acting naturally is a pose – the most annoying pose I know.’ If this is their attempt at natural, then it’s certainly the case.

The costuming is mixed: some is ornate and elaborate, and some very simple. Rather than sticking to Fringe-ian minimalism, the idea seems to be to recreate a full-scale Victorian play, which unfortunately doesn’t come off. The venue, although this may have been beyond the Tobacco Tea Theatre Company’s control, makes everything more awkward: it’s a large square room with rather too much light, and definitely too many chairs.

I wanted to like Bunbury Is Dead – the idea seemed fun. Unfortunately, it wasn’t executed: both the script and the production fail to live up to their potential.

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Serena Gosling

at 10:18 on 6th Aug 2014

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Tobacco Tea Theatre’s ‘Bunbury is Dead’, composed almost wholly from Wilde’s most popular works, follows the twisted love stories of Bunbury and his ‘friends’ as they plot against each other to obtain their desires. The play has been cleverly put together and has definite potential. The storyline has some interesting and unpredictable twists that, delivered correctly, would make for an amusing hour.

The actor playing Bunbury is a joy to watch; he plays the part of an obnoxious, upper class fool perfectly, in true over-the-top Wilde fashion. His comic timing is nearly faultless and I found myself chuckling away at his exaggerated movements and remarks. The rest of the cast ware somewhat unconvincing. They do not seem to have truly thought through the delivery of their lines and as a result much of the play fell flat with the audience and laughs were few and far between. In comparison to Bunbury’s movements, they are less confident and their comic timing is lacking.

A crucial part of delivering Wilde’s material well is over-emphasized and definite movements, which they could develop further, and there is a lack of energy in places. Exchanges seem to drag, disengaging the audience and I found myself breathing a sigh of relief each time Bunbury returned to the stage, bringing some much-needed energy to the whole piece.

The play is further let down by the acoustics at the venue. The echoes that accompany each line sometimes mean a punch line, or crucial piece of dialogue, are lost, and this hampers the actors.

Overall, the play falls just short of a classic Jeeves and Wooster escapade. All the key ingredients (oblivious master, ubiquitous butler, posh aunt, love interest and comic best friend) are there, but most fail to achieve their true potential. Ultimately, the writing is let down by both the choice of venue and, in places, unconvincing acting. Nevertheless, the play is in its early stages at the Fringe. Indeed, with a little more confidence in their own ability, I feel that the delivery and comic timing of the actors will be improved. Perhaps, once they have warmed into their roles, this may prove to be one of the better pieces of the ‘Free Fringe’.

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