When A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum first tripped onto the London stage in 1963, it seemed unique and unfamiliar. Since then we’ve become accustomed to Stephen Sondheim as a composer and lyricist who takes a completely fresh approach to each new composition and who plays with time as well as space and the people who inhabit it.
We’ve also lived through Up Pompeii on television and film and devoured such a feast of histories, novels, thrillers and broadcast programmes both fictional and factual about ancient Rome that the place, its customs and its denizens seem completely recognisable to us some 2,000 years later.
Hornchurch’s revival has a largish cast of 14, all of whom play instruments as well as sing, dance and act. The lynchpin performance is that of Julian Littman as the slave Pseudolus who manipulates everyone as he tries to satisfy his young master, the boy’s parents, the neighbours and somehow earn his own freedom. Onstage almost continuously, Littman works hard to give an enjoyable study of an underling on the up-and-up.
Another long-term member of the theatre’s cut to the chase… company is [Simon Jessup, suitably smarmy as thw slave-dealer Lycus. Steve Simmonds is the bombastic Miles Gloriosus, all bright helmet and waving plumes but not much brain underneath them. Young love is represented by Oliver Seymour-Marsh as the somewhat gormless Hero and Natasha Moore as the pretty but equally dim Philia. Their duet “Lovely” has ben choreographed by Donna Berlin as an amusing pastiche of every such number from nearly any musical you ever saw.
The rest of the household where Pseudolus serves is represented by Lindsay Ashworth as the mistress of the house, Stuart Organr as her worm-turning husband Senex and Matthew Quinn as smarmy slave Hysterium. Director Bob Carlton keeps it all moving briskly and, if you wanted just one word in which to sum up Mark Walters’ set, that word would be “witty”.