September 20, 1985

Jumble of disparate elements

The State Theatre Company production of Tom Stoppard’s On the Razzle, directed by Peter King, has opened at the Festival Theatre Playhouse in Adelaide.

Its unscheduled appearance follows a late scratching by the commissioned play The Horizon Papers which, it was announced, will now be held over for the SA Sesquicentenary celebrations next year.

On the Razzle is based on a 19th century Viennese play by Johan Nestroy which was a source also for Thornton Wilder’s The Merchant of Yonkers, which in turn became The Matchmaker and the musical Hello Dolly.

The story concerns two grocer’s assistants, their names Weinberl and Christopher who head off for a day in the big smoke to acquire a “past” to sustain them in the dreary years to come.

Of course, on the same day their employer, Zangler, is also in Vienna and the play consists of a series of near encounters and elaborate subterfuges as they become inadvertently involved in Zangler’s pursuit of his eloping neice and encounter his fiancee, the milliner, Madame Knor.

The farce is deftly plotted but it is curiously inert. Stoppard has a donnish wit and his best works come from the incongruity of humour in serious political and ethical situations. The elaborate episodes in On the Razzle are all to no avail. As farce it’s neither affectionate nor satiric, finally, of class, pretension or human folly.

The excesses and obvious punning – indicative of the ambiguity of all language, as Stoppard’s plays repeatedly remind us- here becomes merely distracting. The wordplay is tiresome when Stoppard provides so little for it to work against.

The language is too mannered to deliver easily and even classic Groucho Marx lines like “so much the wurst for you!” only vitiate the comedy and weigh down the action.

Director Peter King treats the language with too much reverence. Lines are delivered too slowly and evenly when , faster, goonish exchanges are called for. It doesn’t matter if some of the jokes are lost because the physical comedy should more than compensate.

Ken Wilby and Mark Thompson have again produced a splendid set- versatile on its revolving stage, appealing in its artful nouveau accents and visually variable under John Comeadow’s excellent lighting. Zany tartan costumes (Vienna had lost its head over the Verdi Macbeth) complete a witty and functional design.

It would be good to be able to say: rollicking, a great night out, l burst my truss and I laughed so much I needed ventolin. Unfortunately, On the Razzle is pretty much dead on arrival. Stoppard’s farce is an assemblage of unmatched elements and it needs more voltage to the bolts in its neck than the State Company, despite its best efforts, can generate.

The National Times, September 20, 1985, p.35.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment