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Mr Monkey sees Too Clever By Half at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 10th July 2013
End date : 17th August 2013
Visit date : 15th July 2013
Mr Monkey looking at the Too Clever By Half poster outside the theatre Mr Monkey went into Manchester for the press night of Too Clever By Half at the Royal Exchange Theatre. This production is presented by the Royal Exchange in association with the Told By An Idiot theatre company.

Alexandr Ostrovsky wrote Too Clever By Half in 1868, seven years after the emancipation of the serfs changed major aspects of Russian society. After the death of his father, Yegor Dimitrich Gloumov and his mother have fallen on hard times, living off the savings of their one servant and buying everything on credit.

Gloumov devises a cunning plan to restore the family fortunes by marrying a rich heiress. He has planned out a chain of people he can work on to get to the point where he can marry his chosen victim, starting with a second cousin and his wife.

The men he influences by flattery or doing minor tasks - rewriting articles they haven't quite had time to finish themselves. Women are dealt with by pandering to their vanity and toying with their affections. He also bribes mystics to advertise him from Beyond, and his mother writes anonymous letters to the guardian of his chosen bribe, making allegations against the man the girl actually wants to marry.

Gloumov is so clever and precise that he keeps a little red diary (the subtitle of the play is The Diary of a Scoundrel) in which he details how much all the bribing has cost, and his real opinions of everyone else in the play. Unfortunately, Gloumov doesn't keep his little red book quite as secret as he should...

Glafira Klimovna Gloumava (Penelope Dimond) and Yegor Dimitrich Gloumov (Dyfan Dwyfor) considering a bright future (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
For this boisterous production, the costumes have been updated to the 1960's (or thereabouts) but the text has been left refering to 19th century things such as the Tsar and the liberation of the serfs. These anachronisms don't affect the action at all.

The floor of the stage is covered in odd scrawls that look almost like writing (and can be read, almost, if you have a big enough mirror). Furniture - desks, chairs, a stuffed bear with glowing eyes, a sofa capable of devouring an actor - are wheeled on or off as needed.

Dyfan Dwyfer is very effective as Gloumov, playing him with an appropriate air of arrogance and entitlement. Penelope Dimond is excellent as his mother and co-conspirator, eager to join in with this plans. Lisa Hammond has particularly good comic timing as Maniefa, the seeress in a souped-up wheelchair.

The production has a strong ensemble cast, with several actors playing multiple parts so well it's not that easy to spot them. Individually and en-masse they brilliantly show the vanity and lack of awareness that leaves them vulnerable to Gloumov's ambition.

All in all, Too Clever By Half is an excellent night out. It's fast-moving, very funny, and there's lot of 60s music. Another excellent co-operation between the Royal Exchange and Told By An Idiot.

Dyfan Dwyfor holds Calum Finlay, Carla Mendonça, Richard Braine, Haley Carmichael, Debbie Korley, Dharmesh Patel and Nick Haverson at bay (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)

Too Clever By Half runs until August 17th 2012.

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