Review: The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie

(Originally published in The Galleon and nominated for ‘Best Article’)

Theatre troupe Les Enfants Terrible brought their zany family comedy The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie to Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal, one of 30 venues the award-winning company would visit on their Spring tour of the show.

The set onstage is ready but sadly the crowd are not, and the theatre is less than half-full. It’s a shame that the enthusiasm shown in the performance is never quite matched by the audience, with the various skits and musical numbers getting a subdued reaction at best.

It’s clear that the costume designer has gone all out, as each character introduced seems more colourful, wacky and caked in makeup than the last. The personalities match the wackiness and the committed, unashamed performances from the cast is the source of most of the comedy.

However, don’t think for a moment that the laughs purely come from visual humour. Although the colourful costumes and sets are probably the most memorable thing, you’ll be kept interested throughout the hour with sharp and finely-tuned one-liners, as well as recurring gags and cheesy puns which are too silly to not giggle at.

There is no plot as such, and the story comes from each character telling the audience their ‘origin’ of how they became a part of the ‘Imaginary Menagerie’. Predictably with this format, some of the sketches are hit and miss, although that can sometimes be a good thing. Sure enough, when there is a skit that doesn’t quite hit the mark, it’s over fairly quickly and the show hastily moves on to another scene.

The show is kicked up a notch when an audience member is invited up on stage, after some mild persuasion, to become part of the story. Public embarrassment is always funny to see, especially when it’s not you selected as the ‘lucky’ volunteer. Thankfully, the man picked is a good sport, and the treatment from the cast is light-hearted enough for the teasing not to appear too cruel.

Audience participation continues to be a major part of the show from then on. Members of the crowd get given model clouds to wave about, get twerked on by one of the cast members as she climbs across the theatre seats and get sprayed with a water gun. It all sounds very weird out of context, and that’s because it is! Audience participation can sometimes be loathsome, but in this case the fun isn’t too forced and the characters have already become so loveable that you begin to welcome it.

As each sketch comes and goes, and even in the periods where each story is introduced, there’s afeeling that the show will end with a ‘big finish’. The feeling is especially heightened as brief mentions of an undiscovered creature are subtly added in throughout.

However, the final scene ends up being a half-hearted chase between the cast and one of the less impressive animal costumes. It’s an underwhelming end to a show which had enough promise to finish on more of a high.

Despite this, the rest of the show is still so wacky, fast-paced, silly, colourful, light-hearted and fun that a disappointing end doesn’t hinder the overwhelming enjoyment of a fantastic family show. The Imaginary Menagerie did indeed turn out to be marvellous!

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