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What's In A Name? at Birmingham Rep

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
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Introducing baby Adolf
The comedy drama What's In A Name? poses an interesting question – how would you respond if a friend of family member told you they were going to call their baby Adolf?

It is fine to name your baby after a tyrant? If the name is actually the French form, Adolphe, does that make a difference? Does a name exist beyond its links to figures in history? Does a parent have the right to give its child any name irrespective of the consequences?

They are deep questions cleverly posed in this play co-written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière and adapted by Jeremy Sams on stage at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

what's in a name, jeremy sands, nigel harman, birmingham rep, adolf hitler
What's In A Name? at Birmingham Rep


The drama is all concentrated into a dinner party being hosted by Elizabeth and Peter at their apartment in London. The couple, who have been married for ten years, are holding a small get-together for Elizabeth's brother Vincent, who is also Peter's best friend, Vincent's pregnant partner Anna and their friend Carl.

But when Vincent, played by Nigel Harman, drops the clanger of their choice of baby name politeness goes out of the window and argument follows argument. The original dispute, over the name Adolf, quickly delves into other territories with long-held envies, resentments and disputes being hurled into the fray. What began as a pleasant chat over a bowl of hummus and a tagine descends into a series of increasingly bitter accusations and counter-accusations.

Former EastEnder Nigel Harman takes the role of Vincent. Brash and keen to court controversy, he has no idea of the emotions his comments will evoke and ultimately has to face a set of surprising consequences in his own personal life. Clashing with him is friend and brother-in-law Peter, played by Jamie Glover, who is totally incensed at Vincent's refusal to see any problem in naming his baby Adolphe.

Central to the drama is Sarah Hadland's Elizabeth, the perfect hostess who keeps the food coming even when the insults are flying. But even Elizabeth cracks eventually and gives the entire group a very choice piece of her mind. Also at the party are long-term friend Carl, played by Raymond Coulthard, who also has a shock for the group up his sleeve, and Vincent's wife Anna, played by Olivia Poulet.

what's in a name, jeremy sams, birmingham rep, adolf hitler, nigel harman
A dinner party goes wrong...


Sams' adaptation keeps the heat turned up for just over one-and-a-half hours without an interval. As the words and characters bubble, the tension can only rise until it boils over.

Staged by Francis O'Connor, all the action takes place around a coffee table in the family lounge with an upstairs leading into the rooms of Elizabeth and Peter's children. Somewhat ironically, bearing in mind the Adolf debate, their youngsters carry the names of Gooseberry and Apollinaire.

What's In A Name? is rich in social comment – what is and is not acceptable in terms of behaviours, choices, attitudes and prejudices. But it's also packed full of brilliant comedy with plenty of dry humour at the expense of each of the characters. In many ways it's a comedy of manners for today – each of the characters says the things we'd all love to say to some of our own friends and family but never dare!

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Why? A modern comedy of manners
When: until Feb 11
Phone: 0121 236 4455
Where: Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Cost: From £15
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