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The Cardinals (Plymouth)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The Cardinals – a potential Christian ‘Noises Off’ - is Stan’s Cafe’s latest offering currently on tour. But unfortunately it falls somewhat short of the mark.

Entertaining enough in concept and in part, over two hours is a long time to play on a restricted number of jokes.

Centre stage is a puppet theatre on which, using a series of tableaux and vignettes, a selection of Bible stories from Genesis to the crucifixion is re-enacted up to the interval and the subsequent tale of the Holy Land through the Crusades to Apocalypse is told. And all the while, the frantic going-ons behind the scenes make for an amusing contrast.

Add into the mix a Muslim stage manager and the scene is set for some riotous and thought-provoking theatre as sets, costumes, props and music work or not as the play unfolds.

There is no doubt that the deadpan actors are superb. Stan’s Cafe co-founder and associate director Craig Stephens is joined by deviser and performers Gerard Bell and Graeme Rose as the three men of the cloth whose facial expressions are excellent with timing worthy of Tommy Cooper or Les Dawson.

Rochi Rampal, although having worked with director and co-founder James Yarker since her school days, makes a strong debut with the company as the hard-pressed stage manager whose mid-production praying and meltdown could have been utilised far better in the overall scheme.

Harry Trow’s myriad props, costumes and backcloths are tremendous and it is fascinating to see how they work in the land of puppetry.

As raw material there is so much promise here: the underplayed echoes of the Bible stories in the modern day portion; the development of the characters off-stage which is sadly lacking; the play between Christian and Muslim; and the descent into chaos on stage and behind the scenes to name but a few.

And there is only so often that the device of music ending early blasting contemporary pop instead remains funny.

Overall The Cardinals is a somewhat thoughtful piece, overlong but bursting with humour (at least in the first half) and colour, and I would love to see less of it.


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