You Can't Take It With You - Bridewell Theatre
What a pleasurable and delightful play this is. I could go on at length about certain aspects in this production of You Can’t Take It With You that don’t make a lot of sense, but rather like The Addams Family, the eccentricities are what make the characters in this bizarre and chaotic – but nonetheless hilarious – so compelling and unique. I should qualify that comparison: Paul (Mark Watson Gray) and Penny Sycamore (Dara Seitzman) and their extended family are merely quirky, rather than enthusiastically macabre, as the Addamses are.
Both the set (Peter Foster) and the costumes (Andrea Ortiz) fit the storyline like gloves. The original Broadway run was in 1936, and just occasionally the script shows its age. But given it’s the script’s strength and the sheer amount of fun this company seemed to have on stage, it’s a little surprising that there aren’t more productions of this play. The vocabulary is often rich, as it was back in the day when insults were as imaginative as compliments and used a much wider lexicon than the blunt expletive-ridden putdowns often used today.
Given its clean language as well as being a period piece, it’s no wonder that it enjoys an enduring popularity amongst those high schools in the United States that put on amateur student productions – even the minor characters, such as the all-too-briefly seen Donald (Joe Docherty), are far from superfluous in a plot that has a sufficient number of twists and turns. It’s very much a straightforward comedy: no characters are killed in the course of proceedings, and the sweet conclusion is a touching (if crowd-pleasing) moment.
The performances were fine overall, though the standouts for me were the older characters Gay Wellington and Olga Katrina (both Lily Ann Green). The former adds to the borderline anarchic proceedings while under the influence. The latter is a ‘grand duchess’ who might still have some royal privileges in her native Russia had it not been, quite literally, for the revolution. Then there’s Martin Vanderhof (Robert Pennant Jones), the patriarch of the clan, whose mealtime graces are like none other – and far from dull, prove to be welcome moments of calm in a sea of chaos.
The awkwardness (and, for the audience, amusement) reaches a peak with the introduction of Anthony Kirby (Craig Karpel) and his wife Miriam (Cathy Abbott), a rather stiff and principled couple (the Dindons in La Cage Aux Folles came to my mind). Their ways are so diametrically opposed to their hosts that it is no wonder Alice Sycamore (Izzi Richardson), dating Mr and Mrs Kirby’s son, Tony (Graeme Langford) can’t see how their relationship could last in the long run. For all the pandemonium that goes on, one thing is relatable: there are a great many people who have gone through meeting their partner’s family for the first time, and one just doesn’t know how well or how badly the first impression will be.
The play ultimately serves as a poignant reminder that there is little point in pursuing wealth to the point where it cannot be enjoyed: work to live, don’t live to work. After all, you can’t take it with you. A hearty and humorous production, this is comic escapism of the highest order. What I did take away with me is a memory of a highly enjoyable evening.