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You Can’t Take It with You

By George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart

Told by an Idiot

Royal Exchange Theatre, 12 December 2011

Sophie Russell as Essie and Miltos Yerolemou as Boris Kolenkhov.  Photo - Jonathan Keenan

Sophie Russell as Essie and Miltos Yerolemou as Boris Kolenkhov. Photo - Jonathan Keenan

This is a lively, exhilarating production of Kaufman and Hart’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Certainly the best thing about it is the physicality of the performances: Sophie Russell as Essie, the perpetually ballet dancing sister; Golda Rosheuvel’s turn as Gay Wellington (she plays Rheba the housekeeper, as well), a gin-soaked actress.  And the two Russians, Kolenkhov (Miltos Yerolemou) and Olga (Maggie O’Brien) are also great comedy value.

On the downside, the depiction of black people is stereotypical and certainly dated.  Also, some of the allusions and references have faded since the comedy was first performed at the Booth Theatre in New York in 1936-1937 and beyond.  Few people will know that El Morocco was a nightclub and former speakeasy on East 54th Street or that Hattie Carnegie’s was a couture house on East 49th Street.  Or that Father Divine was an African-American evangelist and the Singer midgets were Leopold von Singer’s troupe.  Granted, some may get the reference to Pearl S. Buck’s best known novel (The Good Earth).

But Grandpa Vanderhof’s philosophy of life still contains a fair dollop of truth, though you may have to fake your own death to realise it fully.

If you like to see complete pandemonium raging on stage, You Can’t Take It with You is definitely recommended.  It is playing at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 14 January 2012, details can be found here.

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