“Something ecstatic; something dramatic; something for everyone – a comedy tonight” are the words of the opening song to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and they prove only too true.
The show, put on by The Queen’s College’s Eglesfield Musical Society and directed by Lucy Wood, is a musical farce set in Ancient Rome: an explosion of song, energy, and laughter, all catalysed by the slave Pseudolus’ (Claire Parry) attempts to win the courtesan Philia (Clare Webb) for his young master, Hero (Johnny Church) – who is in love with Philia – in return for freedom. As the play goes on, and an array of hilarious characters whirlwind across the stage, Pseudolus’ desperate measures become more and more eccentric.
Claire Parry follows the erratic contours of Pseudolus’ up-and-down journey with a natural ease, and colours the role with a fantastic sense of interaction with both the other characters and the audience, whilst the Queen’s College grounds (where Forum is performed in good weather) provide a comically serene setting for the hysteria which explodes increasingly from both stage and audience as the show gallops on. The stage design is beautifully pared back; with the College’s doors providing ingenious entrances to the houses before which the musical is set, and the action taking place on the wide patio of the College’s Beer Cellar, the production must be commended on its resourcefulness and successful use of space. Majestic arches and stately columns adorn the entrances to the three ‘houses’, providing a marvellously simple aesthetic, and letting the characters fill the stage with their larger-than-life presence.
The space never feels empty, whether it is Senex (the old man played by the hilarious Sophie Ward) prancing across the stage in his entertainingly choreographed number, ‘Everybody Ought to Have a Maid’; Domina (his wife, the regal Bernadette Johns) filling the gardens with an exceptional rendition of ‘That Dirty Old Man’ in beautifully rich and agile tones; or the tornado of the last scene, in which three different ‘virgins’ (all dressed as Philia) whirl across the stage in a side-splitting combination of mistaken identity, slapstick, and melodrama.
The music is top-notch: Sondheim’s lively, modern score is vivified by a sizeable band (led by Musical Director Mikey Pandya) and impressive vocal performances in both the solo and group songs. The musical interludes never fail to add yet another funny dimension to the many levels of comedy already woven into the dialogue, from the Captain Miles Gloriosus’ (Cameron Abery) humorously hubristic ‘Bring me my Bride!’ to Lycus’ (Dom Faulkner) bawdy ‘House of Marcus Lycus’ to Clare Webb’s and Johnny Church’s comically clichéd ‘Lovely,’ later reprised by the feverishly nervous Hysterium (Oscar Barber) in his star turn as a “beautiful dead girl.”
Two hours of priceless comic moments, fantastic music, and an immersive, farcical plot, Forum is an absolute must-see.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is playing at 7:30 from Wednesday to Saturday of 4th week