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Vice Versa at Swan Theatre - RSC Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Comedy Fun Based On Roman Plays
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) hit on a roaring success with comedy A Mad World My Masters and now the show's co-writer has embarked on another farce.

Vice versa review RSC swan theatre
Vice Versa is a new farce at the RSC


Vice Versa (or The Decline and Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands of his Canny Servant Dexter and Terence the Monkey) is a spoof based on the plays of Plautus to coincide with The RSC's Rome season.

It's penned by Phil Porter, who wrote the RSC's sentimental and clever festive World War One drama The Christmas Truce as well as co-edited A Mad World My Masters in 2013.

This latest play is a much sillier, frivolous affair than his previous works and is a bit like the Horrible Histories series meets A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum with a dash of Carry On Cleo.

Porter has loosely based this play on Plautus' Miles Gloriosus with elements from the historic writer's other Roman plays too. Loosely is the key word as it basically keeps the spirit of the storylines rather than the language or era.

Vice. Versa review RSC swan theatre
Madcap fun with a monkey in Vice Versa


There's the quick-witted slave who saves the day, the saucy double entendres and the madcap plot of a concubine pretending to also be her twin in order to fool her captor and escape.

That captor is rogue General Braggadocio, who is as dim-witted as he is egotistical. Entering the stage on a motorbility scooter as his chariot to a chorus of cheerleaders chanting Brag, the production merges the contemporary with Ancient Rome. That seems somewhat at odds and the first half an hour is slow to get going. It's also quite panto in nature.

Porter has switched things by making cunning slave Dexter a sassy female. Dexter is played by energetic and vibrant Sophia Nomvete, who holds the production together. She's quite a presence. Fast-tongued yet clear spoken and charming.

Vice versa RSC swan theatre
Sophia Nomvete (centre) is vibrant as slave Dexter


A section where she wheels off endless puns associated with food as she unpacks a large box of groceries is funny and well done, but it's also very similar to a scene I saw done at last year's Birmingham Hippodrome panto show of Dick Whittington.

The comedy gathers momentum after the interval when the pace of this farce reaches a crescendo. At the centre of this action is lively actress Ellie Beaven, who was also in A Mad World My Masters as Mrs Littledick and impressed for her comedy acting in that too.

As captured Voluptua who outwits the General, Beaven plays it for laughs with eccentricity and a zany Greek accent. Felix Hayes is also a joy as the General, a buffoon who wears superman socks under his sandals.

Vice versa RSC swan theatre
Ellie Beaven as Voluptua and Felux Hayes as General Braggadocio


This parody has some extremely funny moments, and characters like the naughty monkey and elderly leather-clad pregnant prostitute Climax are a real delight. My issue with this play is that it doesn't flow smoothly throughout while the comedy and plot is at times too simple and one-dimensional.

Ultimately, Vice Versa is a light, fun and breezy escapade but not as memorable as Porter's other works.

RATING:

Vice Versa
Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Until September 9
2hrs 30 mins including an interval.

Tickets cost from 5 from the RSC website.
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Why? New comedy at the RSC
When: Until September 9
Phone: 01789403493
Where: Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 5
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