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REVIEW: Vice Versa at the RSC

Felix Hayes as General Braggadocio surrounded by his fawning staff/slaves
Felix Hayes as General Braggadocio surrounded by his fawning staff/slaves

Vice Versa at The Swan Theatre, runs until 9th September

IF you’ve seen the other offerings from the RSC’s current Rome season so far — the bold and brilliant Julius Caesar and energetic Antony and Cleopatra —you will have been struck by their potent politicalness, their sage lessons for today’s world, and just how gosh-darn clean and shiny Rome looks; where white marble bathrooms and nouveau riche lion statues are de rigueur.

This smorgasbord of filth is NOTHING like that, which is actually quite a relief. Here, life in Rome is a dirty business — both in terms of sanitation, morality and the smuttiness of the jokes.

Writer Phillip Porter takes all of the romp and none of the ceremony from old Latin playwright Plautus’s plays, on which this tale of a bragging soldier getting his comeuppance is based.

It’s a pretty linear plot about as sophisticated as the average panto — and with set-pieces stolen from that venerable genre too – and there’s more cheese in the jokes than the whole of Paxton & Whitfield. The storyline is more or less explained in the play’s subtitle, The Decline & Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands of His Canny Servant Dexter & Terence The Monkey.

The Colin Richmond design is panto-smart too, which lurid colours, mix-match costumes, daft props and a tremendous sense of play — a particular delight is the General’s mobility scooter pimped out chariot-stylee. Director Janice Honeyman commands the action with the seeming glee of a mischievous circus-master.

But the phallic banana gong must go to the lead actors for carrying this piece into the realms of must-see. Felix Hayes as the sweaty, piggishly arrogrant and ignorant misogynist, Trump-alike baddie is an absolute hoot – like a faded porn star version of Leslie Phillips – all twizzling tache and ‘Helloooo ladyez...’ While Sophia Nomvete as the wily sevant/slave Dexter is dazzlingly and hilariously brilliant, and has the whole audience on-side. If only she had led the Democrats’ presidency bid instead of Hillary the world would surely be a better place right now.

Nevermind, don’t think about it go and have pun fun instead.

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