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Village Idiot at Nottingham Playhouse review – Samson Hawkins' play champions diversity and laughter

Nadia Fall's production runs in Nottingham until 25 March, before transferring to Ipswich's New Wolsey Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Eileen Nicholas, Philip Labey, Maximilian Fairley, Mark Benton and Faye Wiggan in Village Idiot
(© Marc Brenner)

The marketing for Village Idiot at Nottingham Playhouse publicises that it contains raucous comedy, drag, wrestling, songs, magic and dancing and that the play also includes a meat raffle with a vegetarian prize option - namely two cans of Strongbow. Watch out Nottingham Playhouse box office. Surely in these cash-strapped times, there’s going to be a stampede to snap up tickets to perhaps be in with a chance of winning some juicy pork sausages or a drop of cider. The real draw though is the chance to see an excellent new comedy drama by emerging writer Samson Hawkins. It’s a win-win situation.

The extensive online list for ‘triggers and advisories’ claims Hawkins’ play contains outrageous comedy, very strong language and it discusses themes and uses language some may find upsetting relating to class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, sex, gender identity and disability. It will certainly shock some people and it will certainly offend some people; they claim. The list goes on to suggest that theatre holds a mirror up to life and Village Idiot ultimately carries a message of inclusivity, arguing that when we learn to accept each other’s differences and celebrate our individuality, the world is a richer place.

In her tenure as artistic director at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Village Idiot director Nadia Fall continues to devote her attention to keeping their shows diverse and diversity is what co-producers Ramps On The Moon are all about. They have worked hard since 2016 to achieve real change in how D/deaf, disabled actors, workers and audiences experience theatre. Tellingly, every performance of Village Idiot is captioned.

A recent interview reveals that it is Fall’s first time directing a D/deaf and disabled cast and Ramps On The Moon’s first time staging an original new play. Nottingham Playhouse and Theatre Royal Stratford East have co-produced the comedy with Ramps on the Moon, a consortium of theatres that includes Leeds Playhouse, Sheffield Theatres and Ipswich’s New Wolsey.

Village Idiot is stupendously funny with ripe language throughout and yet reveals a serious plot underbelly concerning the assorted loves and lives of the residents of a Northamptonshire village called Syresham and the real rural threat from the bulldozers of HS2 that will drive the villagers away from their homes.

It’s a proper ensemble piece with set and costume design by Lily Arnold, lighting designed by Richard Howell and Max Pappenheim is composer and sound designer. The play’s plentiful and playful use of physical interaction has been achieved through excellent work by movement director Carrie- Anne Ingrouille.

The brilliant multi-talented cast of six are Mark Benton (Kevin), Maximilian Fairley (Harry), Philip Labey (Peter), Joseph Langdon (Liam), Eileen Nicholas (Barbara) and Faye Wiggan (Debbie). They are all hilarious as the story-telling shifts from representing homes (hidden in the woods) in turmoil and the Syresham’s Got Talent night. Some of the play takes us into worlds not so dissimilar to panto and actively invites audience response.

Most interesting are the clearly audible reactions from the audience as established on-stage relationships radically change in the second act. Considering that this is Hawkins’ first play, the audience really seem to take these characters to heart and care about their outcome individually or as warring families.

Village Idiot’s success is the multiple effect of strong writing, excellent direction and super naturalistic acting by the company. There are plenty of plot surprises, quick changes and very witty lines perfectly delivered. Hawkins’ comedy drama has some genuinely moving moments and a beautiful surreal ending. You may not win anything in Kevin’s proposed meat raffle but you’ll have a rollicking good time at the theatre and you'll definitely laugh your socks off.