Stephen Flaherty’s The Glorious Ones, receiving its European premiere at the Landor, is an engaging and energetic romp about an Italian theatrical troupe in the 1500s who find themselves struggling to adapt to changing times. The piece is filled with vulgar humour and crude jokes that somehow manage to retain enough of an air of self-knowing cheekiness that they never veer into the offensive. Much of this is due to Lynn Ahrens’ witty book and lyrics and to the efforts of an enormously likeable cast.
Leading this rapscallion crew is the arrogant yet charismatic Flaminio Scala (Mike Christie, smoothly charming) and his lover, ex-courtesan Columbina (the robustly sexy Kate Brennan), determined to make a name for themselves on the stage, even as Flaminio’s ambitions threaten to undermine their tempestuous relationship. They are well supported by a talented troupe: Jodie Beth Meyer is on top comedic form as the naif Armanda, and Peter Straker’s lovelorne Pantalone manages to be both sympathetic and, at times, laugh out loud funny. Rounding out the cast are Anouska Eaton and Christopher Berry, enjoying a believable chemistry as the idealistic young lovers whose revolutionary new ideas about the nature of theatre have such seismic effects, while David Muscat does admirable work stepping in for Peter Gerald as the Dottore.
All of the performers tackle the jaunty (if not ultimately that memorable) songs with enough aplomb so that it is only afterwards you realise you can’t recall a single number, though the pieces all work well enough in context. Stand-outs include the hilariously raunchy Armanda’s Tarrantella, and the duet between Flaminio and Columbina ‘Making Love’. The performers are well-served by Martin Thomas’ elegantly simple (yet adaptable) set, which doesn’t overwhelm the confined quarters of the Landor Theatre. In fact, this compact space is perfectly suited to the material, keeping players and audience in close proximity, recalling those days when all theatre was carried out by actors near enough to throw coins or rotten fruit at, depending on their merit. The cast, merrily flirting with the front row, milk this to grand effect, so we all end up feeling very much part of the show.
Director Robert McWhir keeps the action tight and fast paced, although the piece is somewhat undermined by an unconvincing denouement that feels more like a convenient ending than real character development, jarringly artificial even in a production that celebrates artifice. This is somewhat redeemed by a coda that sees the cast reunited in heaven, centuries later, to watch over with glee the comedies they helped inspire, and ultimately this small gripe is not enough to marr an original and funny production.