Can Of Worms

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Edinburgh always has its fair share of bleak, hard-hitting, Important-with-a-capital-I theatre, emotionally reflecting the world’s atrocities through gut-wrenching drama. Well, here’s the antidote – the lighter side of human rights abuse!

Can Of Worms is a hugely original slapstick satire, a Knockabout farce about torture and Big Brother surveillance that never once threatens to be po-faced.

It’s the sort of political clowning you might expect to emerge from an old-school oppressive East European regime, which would therefore be shrouded in almost-impenetrable obscurity. But from a couple of talented Bristol-trained actors, it’s infinitely more accessible.

When it starts, however, we’re not sure what’s going on. A voiceover portends some political scandal, while a stern-faced bureaucrat attends to his clipboard.

He’s soon joined by 473, a naïve underling, full of playful spirit and wide-eyed grins, who tries to crack his superior’s icy exterior through mime alone. This is a fabulous piece of physical comedy, with the tremendously pliable Paul Mundell seemingly possessed by the subversive, childlike spirit of Harpo Marx.

It’s part-surreal and completely manic, offering something genuinely different, as the officious, sadistic chief (Nick Jesper) toughens up this hilariously simplistic fool, prone to comic misunderstanding. By the time the hooded hostage is bundled into this strange environment to be pumped for information, the transformation is complete. Nervous laughter emanates from the audience as the slapstick turns vicious. And what delicious irony that it’s a mime who’s trying to get someone to talk.

All change in act two when Mundell and Jesper switch status. The former is now an oily, quivering stammering politician denying the government would ever sanction torture, while the latter is his under-secretary threatening to blurt out the truth.

This second half is messier. The slapstick broader – all Benny Hill chases and smashed cutlery – and the message rammed home with a didactic rant from our babbling minister justifying the actions of his government. The explaining away of sketched-out depictions of the torture methods are rather contrived, too.

There’s still plenty to enjoy, but it doesn’t have the comic invention, laugh-out-loud misunderstandings or disconcerting ambiguity of the earlier scene.

Mundell and Jesper – and their director Daniel Bye who doubles as the victim – are very obviously hugely talented physical comics, and this is an ambitious piece that showcases their abilities and, for the most part at least, succeeds in placing the funnies ahead of any message.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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