Trumpets and Raspberries review at Chickenshed, London – ‘moments of hilarity’
Lou Stein’s frenetic and occasionally hilarious production of the late Dario Fo’s verbally dense Trumpets and Raspberries marks the first performance of the play since the playwright’s death in October 2016.
That recent loss perhaps explains the director’s decision to stage the work since, despite a laudable if jarring attempt to include the play’s satirical story of the tyranny of authority with topical Trump allusions, it feels very much rooted in the European socialist politics of its era (the play was first performed in 1981).
A mixture of broad, physical comedy, surrealism and farce, the play puts a real-life figure – Gianni Agnelli, Ford boss from 1966 to 2003 – at the centre of its mistaken-identity plot in which Agnelli (Rob Crouch) is burnt beyond recognition in a terrorist fire attack before a mix-up leads surgeons to graft the features of lowly worker Antonio (also Crouch) on to the business leader's charred face.
After an exposition-heavy half-hour awkwardly offset with some clowning around with a mummified dummy as the recently toasted Agnelli, the in-the-round production hits its stride with terrific performances from its cast, and Crouch and Belinda McGuirk, playing Antonio’s baffled-to-near-insanity wife Rosa, in particular. Crouch is outstanding as both the blokeish serf Antonio and imperious capitalist Agnelli, and in complete control of the two parts’ dual demands of rapid-fire verbosity and quick-change physicality.
The farcical elements work best, particularly a superb scene in which a bewildered Antonio is force-fed grinded meat through a tube thanks to the concerned munificence of his wife. However, attempts to crowbar jokes about “alternative facts” (faux news? Fo news?) into the story feel misplaced.
Nonetheless, Stein's inventive staging and the fast-talking, standout comic performances deliver a welcome Fo revival.