Set in ancient Rome, A Funny Thing combines American burlesque with Plautus in recounting a day in the life of Pseudolus – a liar, a blackmailer, and a slave who’ll stop at nothing to win his freedom.
A Funny Thing has a book by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove. Notably, its score was the first for which Stephen Sondheim wrote all the lyrics and all the music. In London, comedian Frankie Howerd originated the role of Pseudolus, which was played by fellow comedian Roy Hudd when the show was last revived at the Open Air Theatre in 1999.
Desmond Barrit (pictured), who plays Pseudolus in the new NT production, won the 1992 Best Comedy Performance Award for another Roman-set piece, Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. His other recent stage credits include Henry IV, Parts One and Two, The Real Inspector Hound, Black Comedy, On the Razzle and, at the Donmar last year, Accidental Death of an Anarchist.
Barrit is joined in A Funny Thing by Philip Quast (three-time Olivier Award-winning Best Actor in a Musical for Sunday in the Park with George, The Fix and South Pacific) as Miles Gloriosus and the right size’s Hamish McColl (last seen in the West End in The Play What I Wrote) as Hysterium. The 16-strong cast also includes Jane Fowler, Sam Kelly, David Schneider and Harry Towb.
The musical is directed by Edward Hall (Edmond, Propeller’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and designed by Julian Crouch, with costumes by Kevin Pollard, lighting by Paul Anderson, orchestrations by Michael Starobin, musical supervision and direction by Martin Lowe, choreography by Rob Ashford and sound by Paul Groothuis.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is the third production in this year’s Travelex £10 season, in which two-thirds of all seats in the NT Olivier are reduced to £10. It’s preceded in the repertory by Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Stephen Rea, and Simon McBurney’s production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. It’s followed by the premiere of David Hare’s ‘war on terror’ play Stuff Happens (See News, 5 Feb 2004).
NOTE: Public booking for A Funny Thing opens on 20 April 2004.
- by Terri Paddock