Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Mrs Brown Rides Again - The Sunderland Empire

Mrs Brown Rides Again
Writer: Brendan O’Carroll
Co-Directors: Brendan O’Carroll & Jennifer Gibney
Reviewer: Steve Burbridge

Having missed out on the first two instalments of Brendan O’Carroll’s ‘Mrs Brown’ trilogy, I wondered if it might prove difficult reviewing the third show – would I struggle to catch-up with previous storylines, would I be expected to have a knowledge of events that took place in Mrs Brown’s Last Wedding and Good Mourning, Mrs Brown?

A brief chat with a fellow reviewer put my mind at rest. Each production is relatively self-contained and the sequence in which you see them doesn’t really matter, I was assured. Phew!

Agnes Brown is an Irish widow whose hobbies are drinking tea, going to the bingo and interfering in her children’s lives. She has an acid tongue, but a heart of gold, and has a habit of constantly getting the wrong end of the stick.
After overhearing a conversation between her children, in which they agree that ‘she’s getting really smelly’ and ‘doesn’t know where she is most of the time’, Mrs Brown concludes that they intend to have her put into a home. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she also has to deal with the news that her best friend’s husband desperately needs a heart bypass, her gay son and his partner who wants to give birth, her daughter’s psychiatrist boyfriend using her as a case study for his book, a raffle ticket scam, and a family secret that everyone seems to know except her. It’s fair to say that she has a lot on her plate!

For those who don’t know, the meddlesome matriarch is actually played by a man - the show’s writer and co-director Brendan O’Carroll, and she is almost a hybrid of Arthur Lucan’s ‘Old Mother Riley’, Les Dawson’s ‘Cissy’ and Catherine Tate’s foul-mouthed ‘Nan’ with a smattering of panto dame thrown in just for good measure.
Brendan O’Carroll can only be described as a comedy genius and his side-splitting scripts leave the audience aching with laughter. There’s hardly enough time to recover from one gag before you are bombarded by another, and another, and another.

The combination of physical comedy, great writing and committed performances is one that shouldn’t, and doesn’t, disappoint. All members of the stellar cast work their socks off as they try to keep up with O’Carroll’s frequent and hilarious deviation from the script and ad-libbing, but his razor-sharp wit and wonderful one-liners easily prevail.Okay, so some of the characters do conform to certain stereotypes – the gay characters are camp, flamboyant hairdressers who enjoy cooking and listening to other people’s problems, the psychiatrist is a dishevelled nutty professor-type and the neighbour is a nosey old gossip – but that’s par for the course in comedy. It’s easier to laugh at people if we categorise and pigeon-hole them first, right?

The humour is far from politically correct and the air is often turned blue by expletives but, if you are not easily offended and enjoy a really good belly-laugh, you’ll have to go a long way to find a show that is faster, funnier or more fantastic than this.

Runs until Saturday 12th September 2009.
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