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 The Theatreguide.London Review

You Can't Take It With You
Southwark Playhouse      Autumn 2007

This uninterruptedly hilarious 1937 farce by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman helped define the genre of screwball comedy, a take-no-prisoners laughfest in which totally insane but internally consistent logic creates one bizarre situation after another, and the audience (and the relatively sane characters) get caught up and have to happily come along for the ride.

In this case the insanity is generated by a family for whom 'eccentric' is an insufficient label.

Mother imagined herself a painter until a typewriter was accidentally delivered, at which point she declared herself a playwright. Father makes fireworks in the basement, while daughter makes sweets in the kitchen between (or during) ballet lessons.

Grandfather has never paid income tax in his life, and has anyone fed the snakes?

I've actually left out a half-dozen other members of the extended family, but you get the idea. And if I tell you that the most nearly-normal daughter is engaged to a boy whose parents are very conservative, and they're coming to dinner, you can guess much of the rest.

(The situation and plot are so foolproof that they've been ripped off repeatedly by other writers - turned on its head, for example, this becomes La Cage Aux Folles)

Just as we've gotten through our first round of enjoying the general silliness, in come the visitors, and everything that could possibly embarrass them happens, to our delight.

Of course everything turns out all right in the end, because these are all good people for whom we wish nothing but good.

This revival at the Southwark Playhouse captures all the fun and all the warmth in a fast-moving and thoroughly entertaining couple of hours.

Indeed, my only small reservation about Gavin McAlinden's direction is that he is sometimes a bit too restrained - in a farce like this, there's no such thing as being too frenetic, and a little more chaos could only have helped.

Presiding over both family and play is Gawn Grainger as Grandpa, dispensing wisdom and wit in equally generous portions.

Sadie Shimmin sets and sustains the screwball tone as she captures Mother's innocent ditziness, along with Sarah Wildor as the ballerina-cum-confectionist, and Caroline Fenton enjoys a couple of scene-stealing cameos.

It would be easy in a comedy of this sort for the young lovers to be faceless stick figures, but Maria Bonner and Matt Barber imbue them with attractive verve and personality.

They don't write them like this any more, mainly because there's nobody as good at generating uninterrupted laughs as Kaufman and Hart any more. Treat yourself.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  You Can't Take It With You - Southwark Playhouse 2007
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