The Cabinet of Madame Fanny Du Thé

Thu 9th – Sun 26th August 2018

reviews

Rowan Evans

at 08:37 on 15th Aug 2018

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There are whimsical delights to be found in 'The Cabinet of Madame Fanny Du Thé'. Through a whirlwind of tall tales and song, Riddlestick Theatre had me hanging onto their every oddity.

As I entered the small upstairs room in The Mockingbird pub, I was greeted with a musical ensemble, all in dresses. Ear worm tunes became a running theme of the night (I could still hear the opening ditty ringing in my head as I fell asleep hours later), and the folkish instrumentation of guitar, accordion and cello jelled well with the folkish tales they invented.

The production is structured around a series of tales told by Madame Fanny Du Thé herself. The order of these are chosen by audience members from a cabinet full of strange objects. The only downside to this was that I felt the funniest tales were chosen first. While I was unsure whether I would I enjoy the humour, the first tale pulled me right in and had the whole room in hysterics in no time.

The audience interaction continued throughout, often making the most hilarious parts of the evening. In one tale, for example, there was a Spanish man who spurted milk from his mouth each time he was insulted. The nearby village cows had died so it was up to the audience to berate him. It was in this flurry of hurling insults that the play won me over.

Each tales central song was distinct in its own right. A song about pirates disliking girls that lead into an audience sing-a-long of “My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean” was a particular highlight.

Every cast member in this short tale format was given their chance to shine. Whether a mad scientist, or a dashing court musician – they all brought their own distinct humour to each of the roles. While I felt the European accents were a bit choice, these did not detract from the barrage of gags hurled at the audience throughout.

As the play states in my favourite song of the evening: “Curiosity is my ideology”. So, if you are curious, it is well worth taking a peak in 'The Cabinet of Madame Fanny Du Thé'.

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Hugh Kapernaros

at 10:02 on 15th Aug 2018

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Productions billed as a “musical voyage of hilarity” never instil too much confidence in me. It seems medieval, and makes me think of sweaty dudes in dresses and sing-alongs backdropped by a vague whiff of Guinness. Walking into the upstairs loft of a pub to see “The Cabinet of Madame du Thé”, I was greeted by an accordion, a crooning guitar and not one, but three dudes in dresses. My pantomime alarms went off, and I thought I was in for an hour of sexual puns and disappointment. The former proved very true, the latter very wrong, and I spent the entirety of both the show and my walk home grinning. The young performers of Bristol-based Riddlestick Theatre are fun, light-hearted and clever, and offer an authentically old-school comedy experience.

The play takes you through the life, dreams and legacy of the fabulously eccentric Madame du Thé; her cabinet filled with mementos of bizarre tales of international adventures. Imagine a self-conscious milk-vomitting Spaniard, a Frenchman with the sexiest fingers this side of the Seine, a Human Centipede-esque German brain surgeon, misogynistic pirates and jealous brothers of indeterminate Eastern-european origin. What saves the show from slipping into pure silliness is the talent of the young cast - quick on their feet, well-rehearsed, great music and just as sharp with each other as they are with the crowd.

Admittedly, some parts work better than others. Screeching characateurs of women by men may not hold the same punch as in the Monthy Python days; the Pirate sequence wasn’t as engaging as it’s formers; and occasional awkward audience interactions are inevitable in any pantomime. However, the cast took everything in stride, never took themselves too seriously and came off as earnest, unpretentious and fun.

If you’re over being bombarded by plays about Brexit and how social media’s ruining everything, 'The Cabinet of Madame du Thé' is a breath of fresh air. There’s something brilliantly British about sing-alongs in a pub, aristocratic femme fatales, guys in dresses, and being mean about the French. And it’s genuinely great to see the long legacy being continued by a young group of talented performers.

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