14 Feb

NAPOLEON DISROBED as told by an Idiot
At the Arcola
There are many words one could use to describe Napoleon Disrobed as told by an Idiot. Hilarious, tragic, imaginative, ridiculous, insightful, silly, etc. The one that is most appropriate in my estimation is Indescribable.
Katherine Hunter has directed this piece and it is like no other piece of theatre I have seen, Common sense disappears and reality flies out of the window.
The setting by Michael Vale is extraordinary. A stage made out of planks of wood. A stage that is movable, By removing a few blocks from underneath it can start rocking like a boat. And there are struts which can be introduced to set it up to any slope required. To see the actors cope with wheeled suitcases etc on a sloping stage all adds to the feeling of unreality.
On a small barrel in the centre are the vestments appropriate to the robing of Bonaparte. A tricorn hat, a waistcoat and a military dress coat.
Paul Hunter arrives on the stage and talks to the audience as if he is doing a stand up. And he is doing it very well. Waves of laughter coming from the audience. He pretends he is doing University Challenge and itemises certain people in the audience to act as students. From then on, they are referred to throughout the play as – for instance – Brown – Cambridge .
Not sure what this opening has to do with the rest of the story – but that doesn’t matter. The story is an imaginative one. Napoleon wants to escape from St Helena and he teaches a sailor to be him. The sailor dresses up in the Napoleon clothes, Napolean escapes on the boat and the false Napoleon dies.
That is the bare plot – his adventures getting to Paris. Lovely bits like when he gleefully burns the Union Jack. And the wonderful Ayesha Antoine plays all the other parts including Ostrich a girl who sells melons. They get together to build a business which they sells millions of melons without ever opening the shop.
Sounds crazy? Well of course. Hilarious definitely, Tragic certainly, Imaginative , ridiculous and blissfully unusual. Absurd and yet a general fable about the human condition and the personality.

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