What’s in a Name? review – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (and touring)

5 star review

This comedy about a dinner party that spirals spectacularly out of control was a huge hit in France after it premiered almost 10 years ago.

The UK touring version, adapted and directed by Jeremy Sams from Matthew Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière’s original, shifts the action from Paris to Peckham – and clearly nothing has been lost in translation. It’s a sharply written and perfectly structured delight. I haven’t laughed so much in ages.

The show’s poster – showing a cute baby with Hitler moustache – gives just a hint of what is to come. Sharp-suited wide-boy Vincent (Joe Thomas) and his pregnant partner Anna (Summer Strallen) have been asked round for a Moroccan meal by his sister Elizabeth (Laura Patch) and her pedantic husband Peter (Bo Poraj). Also invited is their childhood friend Carl (Alex Gaumond), an orchestra trombonist.

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Laura Patch (Elizabeth), Alex Gaumond (Carl) and Summer Strallen (Anna) in What’s in a Name? (photo: Piers Foley)

Arriving ahead of Anna, Vincent proudly shows off the ultrasound of his unborn son before dropping a bombshell about the child’s intended name. The shockwave turns the dinner party into a full-on ding-dong (as they might say in Peckham) – where long-buried resentments explode messily like a dropped bowl of cous cous.

The success of this play rests not so much on the one liners but on the interactions between the five characters. Even as the party guests arrive there are tiny tremors of discontent amongst the social niceties, such as Elizabeth repeatedly making the point that Peter doesn’t like her new hairstyle.

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The cast of What’s in a Name? (photo: Piers Foley)

The five-strong cast fires on all cylinders. Joe Thomas (of Inbetweeners fame) makes Vincent mischievous yet likeable, and takes on an amusing narrator role to set things up. Although she doesn’t turn up until the dinner party is well under way, Summer Strallen makes an instant impact as feisty mum-to-be Anna.

Full marks too for Francis O’Connor’s detailed and convincing set design for Elizabeth and Peter’s Peckham flat.

In short, this chaotic dinner party serves up delicious laughs for starters, mains and dessert.

What’s In A Name? ran at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from 5-14 September and is now touring to Glasgow, York, Aylesbury, Cambridge, Windsor, Richmond and Southampton.

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