Adapting well-loved source material can be a tricky art, but Shedload Theatre have managed to maintain the essence of Richmal Crompton’s
It would be impossible not to go along and have a laugh.
The books featuring ‘fiction’s most popular boy’ are tales of a group of boys’ misadventures in middle-class middle England in the early twentieth-century. The books often receive criticism nowadays for their broadly painted gender and class stereotypes, but Jonathan Massey and Matthew Barnes have here kept well clear of the more controversial content of the William books – for example, William and the Nasties (where William and the gang pretend to be Nazis). Instead, a cast of five take on the role of William and his friend recounting to the audience a relatively innocent adventure, with all actors taking on multiple roles.
Massey, who also plays William, is engaging and charming as the lead character, and translates to the stage well William’s unique speaking style. The metanarrative layers of having William tell the story and force his group to take on the various roles adds humour. Thomas Guttridge is particularly noteworthy as Ginger, who moans about taking on the role of William’s sister Ethel in the play-within-the-play. But the best parts of the show were when the cast played with genre and style: the show integrates props, puppetry, physical theatre and even a cappella to create a really all-round piece of theatre. The lighting design was smooth and nicely executed, adding to the neat transitions.
The reason this show doesn't quite earn five stars is to do with some of the performances. While all five actors are clearly talented in their own right, the chemistry between them felt at times a little off. Hammy as the show (rightly) was, there were few moments where I was not convinced of the friendship between the boys or of any real animosity to the ably-played Violet Elizabeth Bott. The energy that was so present in the action scenes and important plot twists was a little lost when the group of Outlaws do what (in the books, at least) they do best – talk nonsense to one another.
Regardless, this show is still jolly good fun, and thoroughly accessible to anyone whether they know the books or not. It would be impossible not to go along and have a laugh.