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The Theatreguide.London Review

Little Malcom And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs
Southwark Playhouse Summer 2015 

First performed fifty years ago, David Halliwell's comedy anticipated political events of the late 1960s by mercilessly satirising student would-be revolutionaries. 

But Halliwell had other fish to fry in this play, whose first production ran six hours, and even in its current shape it's a jumble of bits and pieces whose divergent purposes frequently sit uneasily alongside each other. 

A very fine new production by Clive Judd can't quite make all the bits and pieces feel like part of the same play or smooth over the sometimes jarring shifts in tone. Nor, despite some very entertaining and/or chilling sequences, can the director and his hard-working cast keep the thing afloat for an ultimately dragging three hours, and some judicious but heavy cutting of the text could only have helped. 

Having been thrown out of art college for being a general pain in the neck, Malcolm Scrawdyke recruits three dimwitted friends and declares them a revolutionary party – today (or actually sometime next week) revenge on the Principal, and then ruling the world. 

The central joke of the enormous gap between Malcolm's plans and self-image on the one hand and his general incompetence and inadequacy on the other carries the play through much of the first half, and there are some hilariously farcical scenes of the hapless quartet rehearsing a convoluted plan to kidnap and humiliate the Principal. 

But somewhere along the way Halliwell begins to take Malcolm a little more seriously, turning him into a fledgeling Hitler and examining the scary ease with which his demagoguery mesmerises his followers and his inflated ego approaches paranoia and madness. This leads in turn to a small-scale version of Soviet show trials, as an imagined traitor is condemned and expelled. 

And all along the way there are entertaining but essentially irrelevant digressions, like the follower who is a wannabe writer and whose dialogue betrays his having read far too many hardboiled detective novels, or the telling but over-extended revelations that dictator-to-be Malcolm can't even work up the courage to talk to a girl. 

Director Clive Judd makes almost all of these pieces work – the funny ones are funny and the chilling ones chilling. But you too rarely get the sense of them all belonging in the same play, and the disjointed quality adds to the feeling of the evening dragging on and on long after sufficiently making all its various points. 

Daniel Easton believably captures each of Malcolm's faces without being able to make them all seem part of the same person. Scott Arthur, Laurie Jamieson and Barney McElholm provide solid support as his followers while Rochenda Sandall spends most of the evening backstage before coming on for one telling scene as the girl of Malcolm's hopeless fantasies.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs - Southwark Playhouse  2015

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