Reviews Manchester Published 14 December 2011

You Can’t Take It With You

Royal Exchange ⋄ 7th December 2011 - 14th January 2012

Kaufman and Hart’s screwball comedy.

John Murphy

In many ways George S Kaufman and Moss Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You is the perfect Christmas production for our times. First staged in 1936 on Broadway, it proved to a welcome antidote to the travails of the Great Depression and ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize and spawning an Oscar-winning film adaptation. Nearly 80 years on, and we have our own recessionary woes to worry about, so it makes a lot of sense for the Royal Exchange to revisit this feel-good screwball comedy.

You Can’t Take It With You tells the story of the Sycamores, a family full of eccentrics and misfits. The head of the family, Martin, keeps snakes in the house, throws darts and refuses to pay any income tax simply because he doesn’t believe in doing so, while his daughter paints and writes a succession of never completed plays, and his son-in-law makes fireworks in the attic with an ice man who visited the house eight years ago and never left. Amongst this extended family there’s also a daughter who’s obsessed with becoming a ballerina, her xylophone-playing husband and a house maid who valiantly attempts to keep the whole household running smoothly.

In a clash of cultures not entirely dissimilar to that of La Cage aux Folles, the sole ‘sensible’ member of the family, the younger daughter Alice, brings home her potential in-laws, the respectable, conventional and somewhat stuffy Mr and Mrs Kirkby. It may not take a genius to work out whether the Kirkbys shed their strait-laced ways to embrace the Sycamores’ anarchy, but the fun here is in the journey, rather than the destination.

Told by an Idiot’s Paul Hunter utilises the in-the-round space of the Royal Exchange ingeniously; the cast shift around the scenery between scenes and one actor is even lowered on to the stage on a trapeze. There’s so much going on, especially during the first act, that the audience are pushed to the point of exhaustion by the interval. While it can feel excessive in places, the production’s energy is also exhilarating and infectious.

Hunter’s cast works incredibly well as an ensemble, with Sophie Russell delivering a stand out performance as the ballet-obsessed Essie. Yet, though her gift for physical comedy is considerable, she doesn’t overshadow the rest of the cast, with Game of Thrones actor Miltos Yeromelou also excelling as her Russian dance tutor Kolenkhov, and Christopher Benjamin a model of avuncular goodness as grandpa Martin. Sarah Ridgeway plays the relatively straight role of Alice with suitable poise, and Golda Rosheuvel has an eye-catching cameo as a sozzled actress. Yet it’s the way that the cast play off each other that’s the source of most enjoyment; there are some wobbly American accents, but the energy and enthusiasm on display more than compensates.

The production is physically inventive and includes some good-natured audience participation, with various cast members leaping on top of them or involving them in parlour games, and Laura Hopkins’ stage design really utilises the Royal Exchange’s distinctive performance space, including the spiral staircase running between floors. An animatronic snake proves an unexpected scene-stealer and the whole thing  adds up to a genuinely feel-good evening.


John Murphy

John is the former editor of, and current contributor to, musicOMH. He lives in Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous Crucible and Lyceum theatres, and also reviews in nearby Leeds and Manchester. John is also a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and can be often be found in one of Sheffield's comedy clubs, laughing like a madman.

You Can’t Take It With You Show Info

Produced by Told by an Idiot/Royal Exchange

Directed by Paul Hunter

Cast includes Christopher Benjamin, Joanne Howarth, Sarah Ridgeway, Sophie Russell, Miltos Yeromelou, Adam Burton, Hugh Skinner, Golda Rosheuvel, Sam Parks, Maggie O'Brien, Martin Hyder, Denton Chikura


Running Time 2 hours, 30 minutes (including interval)



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