Phil Porter is the first to admit that his latest comedy, Vice Versa, is lovingly ripped off from the Roman playwright, Plautus, who probably nicked the plot from the Ancient Greeks.
But if you’re going to plagiarise then why not chose quality? Vice Versa opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company’sSwan Theatre tonight and it’s a madcap, anarchic farce that gets funnier as the show progresses.
There are the inevitable Trump gags, which are working their way into everything these days, and a few jokes and routines that seem to owe their provenance to Carry On Cleo (Infamy, infamy!), A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Up Pompeii.
I’ve seen the very clever sketch when slave, Dexter (Sophia Nomvete), tells a story using the groceries from a supermarket crate, previously done in panto.
So while the gags are rather hoary there is a real freshness to their delivery thanks to some hilarious turns from the largely unknown cast, moments of sheer lunacy and even a few song and dance routines thrown in.
The ensemble appear dirty, pustule-infected and missing a large number of both teeth and brain cells as characters from the household and life of ruddy-faced braggart General Braggadocio.
Although the show is set in Ancient Rome, director Janice Honeyman has raided the RSC props department, dragging into scenes a mobility scooter, a Walkman, lampshade hats, a kitchen sink and even a set of pelmeted curtains. I was almost expecting a cuddly toy.
The servants are possibly some of the dumbest you’ll ever encounter but it makes for lots of uproarious slapstick and physical buffonery that keeps everyone chuckling.
Steve Kynman and Byron Mondahl, as brainless slaves Feclus and Omnivorous, play a nicely choreographed drunk scene which entertains everyone in the second act.
But it is Nomvete who keeps the entire two-hour show on its toes with a highly animated, music hall turn as narrator, chief protagonist, and enslaved manservant Dexter.
She, along with her beautiful mistress, Voluptua (the coquettish Ellie Beaven), have been enslaved by the repugnant, bullying, misogynist Braggadocio.
Porter has additionally dubbed this satire The Decline and Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands Of his Canny Servant Dexter and Terence the Monkey which pretty much tells you the entire plot in one very lengthy subtitle.
Voluptua is in love with Valentin, possibly the most stupidest young buck living in Ancient Rome.
Geoffrey Lumb is a riot as the deadpan, vacuous, Adonis who appears to have been born with his brain between his legs.
The love-sick sop just wants to rut with his gorgeous Voluptua but any scheming by the wily Dexter, to make it happen, goes totally over his empty little head.
Meanwhile Felix Hayes‘ splendidly snorting and puffed up Braggadocio, falls for Dexter’s cunning plan hook, line and sinker.
Even his jovial neighbour Philoproximus (Nicholas Day looking like he’s enjoying himself immensely) joins in the intrigue by getting his old prostitute chum, Climax, to play a part.
Yes, double entendres fly about, particularly from the sleazy Braggadocio.
Vice Versa is totally bonkers but is played with such zest by the cast that you can’t help but be enchanted.
Playing in repertoire, in the Swan Theatre, until September 9.
Phil Porter’s new comedy, Vice Versa, borrows from gag-writers and playwrights old and new, for a madcap, slapstick satire that is set in Ancient Rome.