Review: What’s In A Name? – Grand Opera House, York ★★★★☆

Adam Graver

Almost 10 years ago, Le Prenom, premiered in Paris to rave reviews. After being translated into 22 languages across Europe and further-afar, the show has become What’s In A Name?, adapted and directed for the current UK run by Jeremy Sams.

Starring Joe Thomas (Vincent), the show centres around husband and wife Elizabeth and Peter, (Laura Patch and Bo Poraj) who are hosting a dinner part for friend Carl (Alex Gaumond), Elizabeth’s brother Vincent and partner Anna (Louise Marwood).

The show, staged in two 45 minute segments, follows the events of that evening, which spiral into chaos with Vincent’s announcement that his and Anna’s baby is to be called Adolphe. What seems like a funny joke, is taken too far and the night descends into pure “one upmanship” in it’s finest as each character finds a way to annoy, irritate and antagonise the other four.

The play starts with Vincent narrating the evening that is about to unfold. In typical Joe Thomas fashion, the character is instantly loveable but unbearable at the same time. He is arrogant but playful, witty yet infuriating and his opening narration sets the rest of the show up perfectly. It is Vincent that lights the touch paper for the events that occur in the evening with his decision to name his newborn after the Benjamin Constant novel Adolphe, which causes huge problems with Peter and Elizabeth early-on.

As the funny, honest play continues, the arrival of Anna, who is an hour late for the Moroccan dinner, leads to the admission their real plan is to name their baby Henry, after Vincent and Elizabeth’s father. Anna has already, at this point, questioned the naming of Peter and Elizabeth’s children (Gooseberry and Apollinaire), which leaves the two couples in an argumentative state for the remainder.

Whilst the acting itself is outstanding throughout, the comic timing, especially coming from Joe Thomas and Bo Poraj, is impeccable. The casting choices, as is often the case with Adam Blanshay Productions, is spot on. The dynamic between the five make it feel like they are genuine friends (albeit not this evening) and their relationship goes back to their childhood. Such is the dynamic, that the shock revelation at the end, is exactly that, a shock. Alex Gaumond delivers his declaration with style and poise and rather than watering down the comedy, adds and complements to the show.

Is the show riddled with punchlines and slapstick? Absolutely not. But that was never the intention of writers Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre De La Patelliere. What’s In A Name? relies on the chemistry aforementioned, and the five actors absolutely deliver on what was originally intended. The adaptation by Jeremy Sans is exceptional, bringing in references to Brexit and bringing the show into 2019. There are some huge laugh out loud moments and all five have these in their performances.

It is without question that the three males have the dominant share of humour and big moments, but both Laura and Louise’s characters are highly relatable. Stereotypes are in place as Elizabeth is seen as the one running around making the food and she has evidently given up her career to facilitate her husbands as they’ve had children and the way in which these gender roles are portrayed is on the money. It’s a traditional view but one that, in 2019, is highly relevant.

What’s In A Name? covers a multitude of themes in just a 90 minute script. Sibling rivalry, gender, bigotry, resentment and entitlement are all centre of attention in the arguments that happen during the evening which keeps it entertaining where single issue shows might have fallen down. I enjoyed this production and amongst the stand-out moments, there was a real message throughout. Go and see this and you won’t be disappointed.

Tickets available for 11th and 12th October here

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