Words: Jayne Robinson
With dysfunctional family relationships at the heart of many a Christmas across the UK, The Royal Exchange's choice of Christmas show this year certainly taps into our festive psyches through its celebration of all that's great - and not so great - about family.
George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's 1930's Broadway hit comedy invites us into the somewhat unusual New York home of the Sycamore family, where it clashes two contrasting American ideals against each other in a chaotic few hours of skilfully crafted panto.
The bohemian Sycamores believe in following the heart over the head at all costs, while the upper class Wall Street Kirbys believe only in work, and the pursuit of money and status. So when the 'normal' Sycamore daughter Alice falls in love with her rich boss' son Tony Kirby, the families lock horns in a 1930's 'Meet the Fockers'-esque riot.
For this production The Royal Exchange have collaborated with larger than life theatre company Told by an Idiot; well known for their strong handle on comedy, and interest in drawing the human element out of some otherwise very silly situations.
And it shows. The 12 cast members handle the play's 17 exuberant characters with all the cool-handed expertise of a circus act; the comedy flowing freely through smooth transactions between cast members, none of whom ever drop the ball in this fast paced and probably (though not visibly) highly pressurised performance.
With such an evenly accomplished cast it's difficult to single out any one member for praise, although Christopher Benjamin's classy portrayal of the benevolently patriarchal Grandfather certainly resonates - if only for the way in which he adds a touch of restraint to the more farcical elements of the play. Sophie Russell's pirouetting Essie and Miltos Yerolemou's outrageous Kolenkhov are superbly crafted comedic creations, while Sarah Ridgeway is flawless as Alice; the 'normal one' who finds herself despairing at the eye of the storm that is her wildly eccentric family.
The production makes terrific use of the Exchange's In The Round set up, with audience members (particularly those in the front row - beware) drawn into the Sycamores' topsy turvy world in what make for some of the funniest moments of the show.
Although not strictly speaking, a Christmas play, 'You Can't Take it With You' is certainly festive in its appeal - with a focus on family love, anti-capitalism and of course, fun. Indeed, one can almost hear the ghost of Tiny Tim's 'God Bless Us, Every One' floating somewhere above the stage as the play draws to its inevitable, heartwarming conclusions.
See You Can't Take it With You at The Royal Exchange until January 14th.
Originally published: 14th Dec 2011