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The Clothes They Stood Up In at Nottingham Playhouse - review

Adrian Scarborough adapts the Alan Bennett novella

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Adrian Scarborough and Sophie Thompson in The Clothes They Stood Up In
© The Other Richard

You are what you keep. Oh, hold on. That's not the saying, is it? Well, it could be.

The Clothes They Stood Up In sees a couple return from an evening at the opera to a completely empty flat. Everything has gone; the furniture, the carpet, even the chicken casserole from the oven.

As Mr and Mrs Ransome (Adrian Scarborough and Sophie Thompson respectively) attempt to move on post robbery – or is it a burglary? – one flies and the other fails.

In his writing debut, Adrian Scarborough has adapted the much-loved 1997 novella by Alan Bennett. The production (directed by Adam Penford) is wonderfully observed to reflect a modern Britain.

The script is almost joyful, perhaps because it feels so familiar. Passages feature mundane every-day conversation, about trips to the high street and daytime television, but are relayed with killer timing. In its tender moments, it is revealing and poignant.

Thompson leads as a rather shrill Mrs Ransome. It's a relentless role with barely any respite from the stage. With every new experience Mrs Ransome nervously tackles, from trying an onion bhaji for the first time to setting up an email address, it's impossible not to beam for her.

Scarborough triumphs in his role as the square Mr Ransome, hell-bent on getting his hi-fi music equipment back. Quite often he draws a laugh just with a pinch of his face and a declaration of "I'm a solicitor!"

A love of opera weaves throughout the production and is beautifully blended into the theatrical experience by Jon Nicholls' compositions and sound design.

Three others form the cast and play a wonderfully diverse array of characters that help – or at least, attempt to help - the couple build back their life, whilst coaxing out information about their past.

Charlie de Melo's Mr Anwar is utterly charming as a local shopkeeper. Natasha Magigi performs with comedic genius as she jumps from being a frisky counsellor to a youthful customer service agent with a bad attitude at a snap of a finger. Ned Costello's characters are all playful and instantly likeable. The cast each have exceptional range.

Robert Jones' design brings the story into sharp focus. The Ransome's pastel flat is akin to a moving doll's house, with its hollowness an echo-chamber for the pair. Other moving parts include Mr Anwar's stocked shop counter, a launderette bench, and a sketchy storage unit. With seamless transition from the crew, each are set at the front of the stage against a black background that forces the audience to focus on what is being said without distraction.

To learn of a couple who own 12 trifle bowls when they openly admit to never hosting demonstrates that The Clothes They Stood Up In is both humorous and, in part, painfully sad.