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Vice Versa review at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘amusing but dated’

A scene from Vice Versa at the Swan Theatre. Photo: Pete Le May
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“Lovingly ripped off from the plays of Plautus”, Phil Porter’s new comedy, Vice Versa, wears its influence on its sleeve, tracing a line from the Roman dramatist through to Carry On films and golden age British sitcoms (it even stars Kim Hartman from ‘Allo ‘Allo).

Following a scheme devised by a concubine and a servant to fool their buffoonish master Braggadocio, the play is a blunt, though not ineffective, instrument. There’s a sex-joke-a-minute and all the dependable ingredients of classic farce, from swinging doors to fake identities: “jolly original!”, one character notes.

Janice Honeyman’s production pitches the comic register just on the right side of overripeness, and features some lovely performances. Felix Hayes, in particular, plays Braggadocio with virtuosic pomp – moustachioed, red-faced and sweaty, he is a perfect fool. Sophia Nomvete, as the cunning slave Dexter, knows how to get the audience onside, playing up moments of fourth wall-tapping self-awareness.

But while the play nods, somewhat heavy-handedly, to contemporary parallels (Braggadoio has an obvious orange-faced counterpart – he wants to “make Rome great again”), Porter’s farce feels rather dated – in politics as well as form.

There’s something unsettling about watching a prostitute mocked for her age, or a woman dressed in a translucent Orientalist costume adopting an exaggerated foreign accent, played for comic effect.

In the end, the villain gets his just desserts and the women and slaves are freed and vindicated, but this positive resolution isn’t always reflected in the gags.

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Phil Porter’s Plautus update is a entertaining farcical romp but it lacks originality