Venue: The Drama Barn
Running: Until 31 October
‘Student written’ is a term that, perhaps unfairly, has become synonymous in many people’s minds with self-indulgent and over-ambitious. However seasoned writer and director Max Tyler’s latest play, The Intolerable Interment of Ignatius Briary, is neither of the above; it is a farce pure and simple and as such provides an enjoyable, if undemanding, evening of entertainment. Set in the 19th century in the bedchambers of Lord Ignatius Briary, the play opens following Briary’s extraction from the grave in which he was buried alive when he was erroneously pronounced dead after a croquet-related misadventure. The main thrust of the plot concerns the snobbish and self-obsessed Briary (Michael Wilkins), who most people still believe to be dead, and his servants, a motley crew of simpletons, trying to manipulate his unusual situation for revenge and monetary gain.
Michael Wilkins, as the eponymous Briary, is a whirlwind of manic energy and foppish ticks, his diminutive form seeming to swell to fill the entire Drama Barn as he throws himself around the stage. He tackles the no doubt exhausting role (the character does not leave the stage for the entirety of the play) with gusto, mastering moments of broad physical comedy while mining every ounce of comedy from Tyler’s hilarious script. The supporting cast are also uniformly excellent and their enthusiasm is infectious. Given the strength of this ensemble, it is hard to pick out any of them for individual praise but if pushed I would point to Briary’s yokel servants (Ryan Lane, Stephanie Bartlett and Mariel Stringer-Fehlow) who provide an endearing and earthy complement to Lord Briary’s snobbish buffoonery.
The play however is not without its faults; although Tyler is undeniably talented and his dialogue is frequently hilarious, the plot itself is fairly weak. The best farces are characterised by wildly intricate plots and a dénouement which manages to untangle the seemingly untangleable and provide the audience with a satisfactory conclusion. Ignatius on the other hand suffers from a comparatively simplistic narrative which occasionally drags (particularly during the play’s opening) and a lazy deus ex machina conclusion that, although moderately amusing, feels like a bit of a cop-out. This is also not helped by a bizarre shift to a more serious tone in the play’s last five minutes which is as unwelcome as it is incongruous.
Ultimately though, the plot is secondary serving merely as vehicle for a series of quick-fire one liners delivered by a collection of amusing and well-drawn characters. These, as performed by a talented cast who appear to be enjoying every second, make for a very entertaining evening of theatre. It is also refreshing to see a comedy in the Drama Barn again following two or three relatively humourless terms and I look forward to seeing what Max Tyler and his cast do next.