More good clean fun than you’d hoped, and less than you’d like, Ian Talbot’s perfectly enjoyable revival of the late Ken Hill’s 1991 HG Wells adaptation is a brave attempt by the Menier to re-kindle the old Joan Littlewood spirit of Stratford East and stir music hall memories of cheap gags, pierrot shows and magic tricks.
Actually, the pierrot show does no more than establish a theatrical framework (the year is 1904), together with a “Good Old Days” chairman, and the magic, a series of clever low-tech illusions created by the Harry Potter maestro Paul Kieve – who worked with Hill on the original show – are more amusing than amazing.
Roll up, then, to see the flying saucepan, the self-turning newspaper pages, the knife with a mind of its own and the jumbo-sized bosom of Maria Friedman which heaves up and down like an undulating escarpment in the village landscape; the over-endowed Maria, I hasten to add, is craftily built up as the double buxom landlady of the Iping village pub.
Her clients include the village bobby (Teddy Kempner), a silly-ass squire (Jo Stone-Fewings), a vagabond narrator (Gary Wilmot) and a pipe-smoking schoolteacher (Geraldine Fitzgerald), all bamboozled by the arrival of the mad inventor, Griffin, who seeks peace and understanding while pinching any passing bum; Wells’s anti-hero was also bent, but on world domination.
Paul Farnsworth’s designs of music hall, saloon bar and forest glade are old-fashionedly cheap and cheerful, and it’s good to see John Gordon Sinclair unmasked at the end: he provides the highlight when, undoing his bandages, he prompts the imperishable line: “Oh my gawd, ’e ain’t got no ’ead.”