“What’s in a Name?” currently showing at Richmond Theatre by Matthieu Dalaporte and Alexandre De La Patelliere is a comedy. It’s a play for today which uses the dinner party as a way of bringing five people together. The hosts are Peter and Liz who live in a converted warehouse in Peckham with their two children, Gooseberry and Apollinaire. They are part of The Guardian reading gentrifies who are colonising Peckham.
Peter works as a lecturer in French at nearby Goldsmiths College and Liz teaches French in a local school. They have invited Liz’s brother Vincent and his wife Anna. Also on the guest list is Carl, a musician and lifelong family friend of both Liz and Vincent. So far so Alan Ayckbourn. On the poster advertising the play is a photograph of a baby with a black tash so no points for sussing out that the name in question is: Adolf. Vincent drops the bombshell and all hell breaks loose. The dialogue is witty, hard hitting and sharp. The actors work brilliantly as a team to keep the plates spinning. All five get their Warhol like moment in the spotlight. In that sense it’s a very balanced and well-structured play.
Francis O’Connor’s set is spot on, every excruciating detail of the middle class apartment is captured, the wall covered in books, the statue of the Buddha, the photograph of the family blown up, framed and placed centre stage, the intercom which requires the users to know that the Battle of Trafalgar took place in 1805. “What’s in a Name?” is the “Abigail’s Party” for our times. A brilliant comedy which shows us where we are, what we have become and why we need to think carefully about our every thought, word and deed.
The play starts with the play’s provocateur Vincent Rando (the superb Joe Thomas, The Inbetweeners) setting the scene for us. He describes the neighbourhood as being all drum and base, piss and the smell of weed. But it’s up and coming and there are some great properties for those brave souls who are willing to take a risk. Vincent is a brash cocky City boy who drives a flash car and earns big money. He patronises his school teacher sister Liz but he likes nothing more than winding up his liberal Guardian reading brother in law Peter (Bo Poraj, excellent).
In some ways the play is a head to head between these two opposites. The comedy hits home because the writers (Delaporte & De La Patelliere) are clearly Peter types and so they know exactly where the weaknesses of the liberal case are to be found. And they give Vincent some surprisingly strong arguments which Peter struggles to deal with. Carl plays a neutral Swiss role for most of the evening, but he has a revelation which is equally seismic. Anna (Summer Strallen) is fearsome and tender and has some wonderful lines and even more impressive if death could kill looks. Liz is all for patching things up and keeping everything on a mundane level but she gets her moment and boy does she take it. It’s one of the great explosive “a plague on all your houses” outbursts I’ve witnessed in the theatre. Dynamite. She steals the show.
It’s all over within two hours and the time just flies past, always a good sign I think. You will laugh and wince, cringe and sigh but above all you will be marvellously entertained by what I’m sure will become a modern classic.
Review by John O’Brien