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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall


Writers Burt Shevelove’s and Larry Gelbart’s take on the comedies of the Classical Roman playwright Plautus, is not only one of the earliest pieces for which Stephen Sondheim wrote both lyrics and music, but also his broadest, bawdiest musical. It has not been performed in Britain for nearly 20 years and perhaps seems an unlikely choice for a youth theatre company. However, the cast take a firm, energetic grip of the material right from the familiar opening number, Comedy Tonight, and do an extremely professional job.

The story is that of the Roman slave Pseudolus, who, desperate to win his freedom, offers in exchange to assist his love-lorn owner, Hero, to win the heart of the beautiful but vacuous girl next door. Unfortunately, the girl in question, Philia, is the latest acquisition of a purveyor of courtesans. Although she is still a virgin, Hero’s parents will not countenance his attachment and Philia has already been sold to a Roman Captain who is due to collect her. Philia falls in love with Hero but remains intent on keeping her side of the bargain with the Captain. Being a farce, the plans and machinations of Pseudolus to aid the lovers go hilariously awry and there will be blackmail, mistaken identities, disguises and a sub-plot of lost children before there can be a happy ending.

Zenith Youth Theatre, based in Bath, has a reputation for imaginative productions of a high professional standard, and that is shown again, here. The stage is tiny, and the entrances and exits of so many actors, particularly in a fast-moving farce where split-second timing is essential, could so easily descend into disastrous chaos in such a small space. However, the company prepared by constructing a replica stage at their headquarters, so that the cast were well-practiced in using the restricted space to perfection. All the performers, from the wily, all-knowing but desperate Pseudolus to the innocent and earnest Hero, to Philia whose only role in life is to be lovely, to Hero’s henpecked father and dominating mother, the braggart Captain, the owner of the courtesans and the ladies themselves, and the neighbour in constant search for her lost children (a part played in the film by the great Buster Keaton) are acted and sung with extraordinary maturity and confidence.

This is a hugely enjoyable show and, despite its early start, was a fine way to begin today with a comedy tonight.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has finished it's tun at this year's Fringe.

You can read more about Zenith Yout Theatre here

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
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