not a book, theatre

Not a Book: Jack Absolute Flies Again!

Back in the theatre with this Sunday’s post because I had a wonderful night out on Monday night at the National Theatre. In fact it’s one of three trips to the theatre this week, which might be a record even for me!

So Jack Absolute Flies again is the new play by Richard Bean – who was behind the smash hit One Man, Two Guv’nors – and Oliver Chris. Like One Man… it’s based on another classic play, in this case Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals, written in 1775. They’ve moved the action to 1940, and our sets of not so star crossed lovers are now taking part in the Battle of Britain.

If you haven’t seen the Rivals, it’s the story of Lydia Languish, a teenage heiress and Jack Absolute. It’s all very complicated with disguises but basically Lydia and Jack are in love but she wants a big romance and when Jack’s father arranges a marriage between Jack and Lydia she rejects it. Cue much tooling and groping. Or at least that’s what I think happens…

Funny story: I’ve technically seen The Rivals, but when we went to see it at the Southwark Playhouse more than a decade ago, it was an evening production on a Saturday night, after I’d worked a early shift at the radio station (and at the end of a six day week of earlies). No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stay away (and I had a nap in the interval in the hole it would improve things) and neither could Him Indoors. I’m still cross about it because it was a really cool venue and an excellent cast – including Celia Imrie – and I wish I’d managed to stay away. But it was in fact a legendary night in our relationship – where we both fell asleep on the train home and missed our stop and ended up three stops down the line, at the wrong end of Southend, three miles from home and not a cab in sight. And this was the pre-Uber era…

Anyway, back to Jack Absolute. It’s rather freely adapted, but there are still competing suitors for Lydia – this time from among the pilots – and it’s all a lot of fun, but with an undercurrent of peril behind it. And even if you haven’t heard of The Rivals, you’ve probably heard of one of its characters – Mrs Malaprop, who constantly uses words that sound like the one she means but… aren’t. Bean and Chris use this to maximum effect – often getting really quite saucy. The age recommendation is 12 plus – and I would endorse than unless you want to be trying to explain things you’d maybe rather not! Caroline Quentin is very good as the mangler of the English language – and does a good job of trying to steal every scene that she’s in.

Genuinely this was a funny and thought provoking evening and a clever update to the original which has gone it’s own way at times to add some interest and depth to some of the supporting characters. There’s a lot of fourth wall breaking which really worked for me and the projections for the flying scenes were very good too. I hope that this does really well – it was a bit empty around the top when I saw it on Monday, but tickets are very reasonably priced and it was very well worth the £20 I spent!

Jack Absolute Flies Again is at the National Theatre until September 3, and is coming to NT Live in cinemas in the autumn.

not a book, theatre

Not a Book: Ben De La Creme

We interrupt our scheduled programming for a rare midweek Not a Book post – because what’s the point of a review of a show if the show is already over…

Ben De La Crème’s new one woman show is called Ready to be Committed and it follows my favourite drag Queen as she tries to get married so she doesn’t end up alone and eaten by cats. The only problem, is well, everything – starting with the fact that she doesn’t have a groom. Over the course of the show De La goes on to breakdown marriage and the patriarchy in a style that she describes at the start as “take the smart but make it stupid”. She sings, she raps, she dances and she plays *all* the characters – including wedding cake toppers and a sentient Dorito.

And it’s very funny. De La’s character is a twist on a 50s-y ingenue and that makes her search for a husband (on Grindr) cringingly brilliant. It’s also very clever – think adult drag Queen Horrible Histories and you get a bit of a sense of some of it. And De La knows what she’s doing – most of the audience, like me were there because they had seen her on Drag Race rather than because they’d seen her live before (I know because she checked!) and she swept us all up in the personality that you knew from the show, but demonstrated that she has more range and versatility than you expected. And if you saw her on All Stars you already knew she was good.

This has been in my diary for two years – I originally bought a ticket to see this in February 2020 and it was one of the first casualties of the pandemic in my ticket box. I had the option to rearrange my ticket in to her Christmas show with Jinx Monsoon, but I hung on for Ready to be Committed and I’m so glad I did. Tuesday night when I went was the first night and it wasn’t full, so if you like the sound of it from the review you might be able to get a ticket, although I’m hoping for De La’s sake that it’s all sold out now! Run don’t walk!

Ben De La Creme is at the Leicester Square Theatre until Saturday, in Brighton on Sunday and then Manchester on Tuesday. Then she goes back to the US where the tour continues…