By Anthony Walker-Cook
Following a previous production of Blackadder II in Durham in 2013, Anna Haines brings back the titular Blackadder (Tyler Rainford), bumbling Prince George (Alex Colville) and simple Baldrick (Grace Longman) for this new production that is set in the British Regency. Three separate ‘episodes,’ closely tied to the television source, occupy this production: the first featuring an extremely relevant general election; the second an unfortunate incident with Dr Samuel Johnson’s soon-to-be-published Dictionary; and finally, an altercation between Prince George and the Duke of Wellington. Gladly, this production has an energy and comedy that, for the most part, retains throughout, with some minor slippages.
The set was adept, simultaneously presenting the audience with three locales; Prince George’s room, Mrs Miggins’s Coffee Shop, and the pantry often seen in the television show, though this final space is never directly identified. The curtain is put to a simple but effective use throughout the production, which creates a further series of nondescript environments. Indeed, the stage was efficiently used throughout the production, with all actors showing a superb spacial awareness. A technical highlight was the confetti-firing canon and accompanying sound effects, which were simple, dramatic and definitely comical.
Focusing on a general election, the first act felt especially poignant. Despite the focus on Baldrick during this first scene, Longman was somewhat underwhelming (though her performance certainly improved as the night went on) – simply being absent does not quite mean being stupid. Rainford certainly introduces the confident and conniving Blackadder, but it is Colville who perfectly captures his character. Flamboyantly stupid, Colville’s Prince George certainly prompted the most laughs. Yet, perhaps inflected by our own Lord Buckethead from the election, a weird standout performance from this first act was Patrick Palmer’s Ivor Biggun, whose blue wig and hyperbolic voice captured the idiosyncrasies of our political system. Pitt the Younger (Talor Hanson) was also, despite the small role, capably performed. From watching this first act, the influences of Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie and Tony Robinson on all the actor’s performances were undeniable, and yet this cast confidently (and commendably) tackle the material.
Though Rainford struggled on his words occasionally throughout the production, he certainly made up for it during the second act where, talking with Dr Johnson (Luke Titmuss), he superbly and efficiently made his way through the multiple fake words that plague the opening scenes. Any problems with Longman’s portrayal of Baldrick also began to diminish as the production continued, where she clearly warmed into the role. Colville remains excellent. Titmuss’ Johnson certainly showed an initial understanding of this incredibly influential literary figure, if perhaps the shouting was too much for a man that, one assumes, would not lower himself to such extremes. The Romantics – Coleridge (Talor Hanson), Byron (Mikey Bicarregui) and Shelley (Layla Chowdhury) – certainly fulfilled their lethargic reputation, though this at times meant speech was difficult to understand.
Yet, in the third act, Bicarregui plays the eccentric and thoroughly Scottish MacAdder, a role in which he truly shines. A wonderfully excessive accent and accompanying kilt, with the occasional hand’s worth of porridge oats and tartan material, Bicarregui added another level of energy that juxtaposed with the posh George and Wellington (Patrick Palmer). Connecting all three acts was Mrs Miggins (Kitty Briggs), who was flirtatious, opportunistic and buxom and certainly a fun addition throughout. Rainford, Longman and Colville continue, as usual, each maintaining their character sufficiently through to the ending if again there was the question of whether they were just copying their televised predecessor’s performances.
Haines provides three competent acts, with the actors in each depicting a fun and energetic night. Comic looks to the audience and Max Lindon’s frustrated turnip boy, combined with the witty material, ensured that most jokes successfully achieved a laugh. All the cast could benefit from letting an audience laugh before moving on, but this is a small complaint in what was otherwise an enjoyable night out. The cast can only be commended on what was an effective and amusing trip to the British Regency.
‘Blackadder the Third’ will be performed in the Assembly Rooms from Wednesday, 21st June until Friday, 23rd June at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Katie O’Toole