It was a riot! Hilarious, cheesy and extravagant, Too Clever By Half by Alexandr Ostrovsky, (adapted by Rodney Ackland) was exactly that.
A whirl of imaginative, visionary tricks and techniques from the Royal Exchange and Told by an Idiot that left you laughing, shocked and impressed by the abilities of the cast not only to play their own roles but to take on other characters, adding their own twist to each. The cast spoke directly to the audience, appeared among us and even persuaded one man on the front row to become part of the act, who played along brilliantly with their capers.
The main character, Gloumov, is desperate to climb the social ladder and is prepared to lie, cheat, blackmail and trick everyone he meets – including his own family – to secure money, position, a wife and live the easy life. His charm, conceit, greed, backstabbing and flattery repel and beguile at the same time. He’s a likeable rogue whom you want both to fail and succeed. Those he cons are often too blinded by their own egos or weaknesses – they hear what they want to hear, see what they want to see, believe what they want to believe. While it’s sad that they’re taken in and feel duped, let down and humiliated, they accept Glumov was good at finding their weak spots and exploiting them. When he’s finally caught out, they are furious but soon realise he’s probably better as a friend than an enemy. They understand that their own personalities have been shown up as not that far removed from his own nature, and comprehend that while Gloumov was brutal, he was honest about them and they easily fell into their own traps – a mix of bitching, gossiping, social climbing and pomposity. The human dilemma: live a good, clean and moral existence or a fun, debauched and corrupt life ?
The set was clever, versatile and witty. People appeared and disappeared in the most inventive and funny ways. The atmosphere was boisterous and lively with a great soundtrack that took film cliches to new heights.
Gloumov was convincing, wily and exceptionally charming, Kleopatra was hilarious and the rest of the cast worked wonderfully together with some great lines and comic timing.
The costumes and the clairvoyant was quirky and offbeat. It may have been devised in the 1800s but the ’60s adaptation was inspired. A great night out that left me smiling all evening and into the next day.
I haven’t had such a fun night out at the theatre in ages. Told by an Idiot, loved by the audience. Highly recommended.
Review by Trudi Barber, guest reviewer
Where: Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
When: until August 17, 2013