Review: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Pat Whymark, adapted from the words of Alexander Dumas, The Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh and touring across Suffolk until October 3.

Charles Davies, Alice Mottram and Joseph Leat in The Count of Monte Cristo by Pat Whymark, produced

Charles Davies, Alice Mottram and Joseph Leat in The Count of Monte Cristo by Pat Whymark, produced by the touring theatre company Common Ground. - Credit: Archant

Common Ground Theatre Company are fast developing a wonderful reputation for delivering imaginative small-scale theatre with a style that’s all their own.

In recent years they have wowed us with Stuff in the Attic, a drama about family relationships following the death of a father, Harriet Walker, the tragic tale of child labour in Victorian Suffolk and now comes The Count of Monte Cristo, a sort of comic sequel to last year’s hit The Prisoner of Zenda.

Written and directed by Pat Whymark, this latest addition to the Common Ground canon is a comically assured, slightly surreal re-telling of the Alexander Dumas classic.

It’s a brilliantly funny adaptation which remains surprisingly faithful to the original novel. All the major plot elements are present but are presented in a unique and inventive fashion. The actors have tremendous fun with the story but never undermine it.

The Count of Monte Cristo rockets along at breakneck speed and is a real ensemble piece. The cast of five are well matched as they rattle through costume changes and a bewildering array of accents to play at least half a dozen characters each.The comic timing is excellent. Everything is obviously well-rehearsed and yet looks fresh and spontaneous.

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The cast of Charles Davies, Lorna Garside, Joseph Leat, Alice Mottram, Nicholas Underwood all have a long association with the company and it shows in the way that their acting styles mesh so easily together.

It is a testimony to their focus and to Whymark’s writing and direction that the story remains coherent while also being hugely funny as they draw attention to the increasingly absurd theatrical devices necessary to bring such an epic story to a tiny stage.

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The staging is simple but effective with two large screens, which double as doors at various points, a ground-row representing the sea, and a couple of trees. At times various props are sent on to propel the story forward.

Pat Whymark’s songs are as catchy as ever, extremely witty and always inform the story as well as raising a laugh. The secret to Common Ground’s success for all their plays, both the comedies and the dramas, is that they invite the audience to become part of the action. They encourage everyone to become involved in the play they are watching. When the acting and writing is of such high quality, this is very easy to do.

This is a dazzling piece of comic confection which showcases the collective talents of a touring company which cleverly mixes experience with youthful talent and it takes real skill to take a sturdy piece of classic literature and turn it into one of the most hilarious and imaginative shows of the year.

Andrew Clarke

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