The 1960s hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a fast-paced, rollicking farce. Borrowing a few of Plautus’ stock characters and adding some American twentieth century wit, the script is good fun, if no particular vehicle for showcasing three-dimensional acting talent. Suitably jolly and energetic, this production isn’t a must-see, but there’s a palpable sense that everyone’s having a nice time.
When the Shed Theatre Company cast first bursts into song with the famous opening number, Comedy Tonight, it’s irresistibly reminiscent of a school play. This is perhaps the inevitable result of having a stage overly crowded with actors of an average age well under twenty. However, while the show never quite shakes off this school play atmosphere, it’s definitely better than most school productions.
Ben Jacobs as Pseudolus, the manipulative slave at the heart of the plot, is likeably jaunty. Jacobs certainly has the confidence necessary for the part - he’s something akin to the show’s anchor. Libby Smith also delivers an excellent depiction of snootiness in the part of the neglected wife Domina. But Jacobs and Smith, though good, are slightly overshadowed by Trystan Surawy-Stepney, who plays Hysterium. It helps that Hysterium has some of the best lines; nevertheless, Surawy-Stepney deserves credit for his lovely comic timing. His delivery of, ‘Nevermind who she is. Who is she?’ and ‘I meant to say ‘Yes’, it just came out ‘No’’ made me laugh out loud.
It’s not a particularly slick production. If you look closely, the dancing obviously doesn’t have the polished synchronisation of a professional production and several of the actors fall into the trap of over-enunciating their lines. Overall, the direction is of a good standard. The three doorways onto the stage, for example, allow for a nice flow of movement in a play whose fast moving plot makes this particularly necessary.
A funny thing happened at the end. No particular fan of musicals, I felt a pang of unexpected pleasure when the familiar tune of the opening number returned to conclude the show. The energy and high spirits of ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ makes it difficult not to like.