In the words of Joe Thomas, What's in a Name was a "funny, clever, silly, family fight"
After a successful UK tour, What’s in a name? brought its final bought of shows to the NST campus. The opening night in Southampton was met with a sizeable crowd, though not entirely the student-based one that the cast had hoped for. Despite this, there was a constant surge of laughter throughout the performance. The content seemed to be highly relatable to the audience too, which led to a successful viewing experience as almost every joke and side comment was reacted to appropriately by at least one person. It was quite a refreshing play to watch as it invited an audience to join in the family by smartly introducing memorable forth-wall-breaks: the first, being easy to work out and subsequently muttered along with the characters on stage, and the second, bringing a climactic first half to its interval. I felt the entire show to be very cleverly written and full of snarky witty comments; and, despite being predictable, it was satisfying to watch the drama unfold and confirming whether or not your own personal suspicions were correct.
The premise of the show is a nice family get-together gone wrong, as it rapidly changes from friendly welcomes to intense bickering. The main character Vincent (Joe Thomas) is the first character on stage, narrating the premise of his family. He is joined by his sister Elizabeth (Laura Patch) and her husband Peter (Bo Poraj), who is also Vincent’s best friend from childhood. Another childhood friend, the un-fruitful Carl (Alex Guamond) also arrives at the Moroccan feast and enjoys spending the first half of the evening watching childish arguing, which is based entirely on a lie Vincent creates to wind up Peter. However, when Vincent’s pregnant girlfriend Anna (Summer Strallen) finally turns up after being very late, things take a turn for the personal, and more embedded secrets spill out the seams of this close-knitted group. The play ends with emotion-fuelled monologues – some more effective than others – evoking pity from an audience, who know this fictional family will never be the same again after uncovering their unspoken and devastating truths.
The script itself is a systematic and intelligent display of seeded ideas and is very detail-driven; this can also be said for the set. The stage was strategically designed so that an audience is invited to see the living room of the chaotic house from two sides, adding physical dimensions to an already layered performance. There was constant usage of the offstage areas that were played to be the kitchen and children’s bedroom which were used effectively and gave a very homely feel to the performance. It was also a well-stocked home in terms of knick-knacks and books, the latter helping to form the entire basis of the first half. It was a very believable and immersive set and looked very impressive. There was a moment at the end when the family portrait changed; this could have been transitioned a lot smoother.
It was a show full of remarkable moments and there were many different genres that were touched on. Thomas and Strallen managed to portray a very equal and egotistical couple who were strong characters in their own right. Peter was played very well by Poraj, and became a somewhat villain, even though it seemed as though it wasn’t his character we were meant to dislike. This was matched very well by the calm demeanour shown by Patch who you had continually grown to love and whose irritated and anger-fuelled rant at the end of the performance was wonderfully opposed to the entirety of her earlier performance. Guamond also managed to achieve a successful finishing monologue as Carl due to his soft display of affections being a sudden juxtaposition to the madness that had only just finished. One of the most memorable moments was the heated climax of all the arguing where fists, people, table-tops, and picture frames flew. It was generally a very exciting performance, due to the energy fluctuations in vocal and physical performance.
This was a very well-thought-out piece and was an enjoyable evening of entertainment. There was at least one part of it that everyone could enjoy making it suitable for a wide audience. The play itself does jump straight into the classy and age-appropriate comedy that continues throughout, so there are no misconceptions on what you’re going to receive. I hope this show tours again in the future as it had a very successful run and would be a pleasure to watch again.
What’s In A Name? performed at NST Campus from the 19th to the 23rd of November.