Napoleon Disrobed, Arcola Theatre

Image result for napoleon disrobed

by Laura Kressly

What would happen if Napoleon didn’t die on Saint Helena? What if he managed to not be imprisoned at all? This amusing Monty Python-esque, revisionist history suggests that with his doppelganger in exile, Napoleon tries to regain power in Belgium but is thwarted by supporter disbelief, poverty and the love of a melon seller. The comedy is punchy but the story is sparse, making for a joyful but baffling show.

The Told by an Idiot script is too heavy on sketch and much too light on plot. A largely unrelated University Challenge preamble, whilst amusing, isn’t threaded through the rest of the story, rendering its presence inexplicable. The overriding premise takes too long to emerge due to lack of exposition and for a good quarter of the play, it’s totally unclear what is going on. Two actors aided by props and costume changes play all the characters coherently and with engagement but there’s only so much they can do to flesh out the so-thin-it’s-practically-transparent story.

Though Paul Hunter as Napoleon is effectively the lead, he’s admirably supported by Ayesha Antoine as his lover and other roles. But of the two, she is much more interesting to watch. Hunter’s brand of comedy is that typically dry and upper-middle class kind like you see on TV, but with a touch more slapstick and self-deprecation. Antoine, on the other hand, has impressive range and nuance. She’s unquestionably the star of the show.

Michael Vale’s delightfully surprising design gives Antoine a run for her money, however. Simple but versatile, the set aids the comedy without overwhelming it. Though it doesn’t look like much initially, the physical function is more important here than the aesthetic.

There’s a lot to like about this show, but its focus on getting laughs in individual moments means the narrative arc is neglected. Only a little work is needed to tighten up the script and give the story more substance, as the core ideas are sound ones.

Napoleon Disrobed runs through 10 March.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s