Escape for Dummies

Mon 7th – Fri 25th August 2017

reviews

James Tibbles

at 10:00 on 20th Aug 2017

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This show is pure unadulterated fun! I haven’t seen anything like it before, but this group of Nottingham university students have me hooked. The Nottingham New Theatre has created a show that is 100% bonkers and 100% genius.

'Escape for Dummies' comprises an ensemble of five who all embody distinct caricatures in a masterclass of physical comedy. A simple escape plot sees two manikins come to life around a myriad of silent stunts and scenes that has the audience laughing from the very first moment.

The production is by no means perfect, but what the ensemble lacks in elegance it makes up for in commitment. The cast and team are fully committed to creating a parade of larger-than-life characters that comprise manikins, shop assistants and customers. Sam Morris and Emma Pallett are perfect as the two shop dummies, marrying comic facial expressions with sustained mechanical movements and conveying an endearing partnership. Morris and Pallett execute the central plot-line very convincingly, gaining our investment in a narrative that is affirmed by a moment of humanity when dummy F tries to teach dummy M to dance. If you are sceptical in the first 2 minutes, by 5 minutes in you are sure to be fully invested in the characters and their story.

Although completely balmy, the directors Laurence Cuthbert and Josh Mallalieu are a force of talent. Movement sequences, character exposition and action scenes knit together seamlessly all the way through, and call-backs and elements of farce make this a playful comedy suitable for all ages. An example of Cuthbert and Mallalieu’s wit is the way the pedantry of the shop owner eventually becomes his hamartia in the climax of the routine.

I also enjoyed how the show was self-aware without entering the oft cringe-worthy territory of pantomime. While I was watching, not only was I fully entertained, but I felt like I had a glimpse into the amusement and antics of the rehearsal process. This was nowhere more evident than when things went wrong – and British audiences love a show that goes wrong! Small blips only made the performance more funny when the cast responded with wit and full commitment to their roles.

Moreover, the physical comedy is fully cohesive with the effective technical design of Adam Frankland. A cogent sequence of masterfully chosen music keeps up the energy and pace while complementing the lighting and mood of each scene. Such remarkable attention to detail pays dividends, especially in moments when the characters control the sound humorously with a meagre remote control and utilise props for comic effect. I can only imagine how stressful the tech rehearsal was!

In short, 'Escape for Dummies' is a refreshing and hilarious piece of theatre. In a sphere where students have a tendency to over-intellectualise artistic work, this show is what student theatre is all about: fun. It is a rare gem of the fringe, and a discovery worth searching for.

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Constance Kampfner

at 14:16 on 20th Aug 2017

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‘Escape for Dummies’ is a deliciously light hearted piece of physical theatre from the University of Nottingham. Set in a shopping centre, the piece takes you on a bonkers ride into life after closing time for shop floor dummies. Meet Dummy F (Emma Pallett) and Dummy M (Sam Morris), two mannequins who scrabble and fumble in their attempts to escape their retail prison, breaking through their motionless facades to fall in love, while dodging shop floor security, vicious guard dogs and somewhat unhinged customers.

Whilst the show pokes fun at 21st century retail strategies – “don’t be a fool when you go back to school; shop with us and we’ll make you look cool”, quips the loudspeaker – don’t expect a piece of hard hitting drama about the pitfalls of capitalism. Instead, the Nottingham New Theatre’s piece of silent comedy, think Mr Bean, offers an hour of rolling laughs and silly mime.

This is interspersed with genuinely touching moments between Morris and Pallett. Indeed, this piece would not work nearly as well without the commitment these two actors display to their dummy alter egos. Every look and movement is carefully considered, as the actors beautifully balance plastic artificiality and human sentiment. Clad in their matching silver bodysuits, they work together to create one of the strangest but surprisingly tender love stories. A particularly heart warming moment was watching Dummy F teach the more hesitant but earnest Dummy M to dance, a strange visual spectacle of the robot dance meets salsa.

The piece is fast paced and in the bat of an eyelid a timid shop assistant can become a raunchy geriatric customer, who then transforms into a lost child confusedly wandering the shop floor, which by this point is really more of a circus. Without speaking, the actors also make use of voice to bring their characters to life, producing a kind of gibberish which takes a little getting used to but often works to enhance the physical comedy of the piece. We thus begin to recognise familiar figures; queue the neurotic shop manager who lets out a yelp every time a flowery dress mysteriously makes its way into the men’s rail.

The rapid character changes can, however at times feel too fast, not leaving enough time for personas to fully develop and be distinguishable for one another. The show could perhaps have done with trying to cram less in such a short period of time to allow the slower kind of moments we see between Morris and Pallett to develop between the whole range of wacky personalities that take over the stage. The temptation to roll from character to character and gag to gag as quickly as this company are capable of doing can run the risk at times of loosing an audience behind which only a second before was fully involved in a joke.

Overall, ‘Escape for Dummies’ is a great piece of comic relief which promises to put you in a good mood as you exit the theatre. Not quite sure what you have just seen, you will find yourself humming some Dolly Parton as you wonder home, peering into shop windows trying to figure out what the lifeless dummies which stare back at you are really thinking.

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