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Friday 13 March 2020

Interview: From The Inbetweeners & Fresh Meat Joe Thomas & Co-Stars Bring What's In A Name To Theatre Royal Brighton

It's the comedy that took Paris by storm, was made into a hit film and received rave reviews when its English‐language adaptation premiered in Birmingham two years ago. So it's no wonder that Joe Thomas didn't hesitate to say yes to starring in the first‐ever UK tour of What's In A Name?, which visits Theatre Royal Brighton, this April.
Credit Piers Foley for Target Live

"It's such a great script," says the actor best known for The Inbetweeners and Fresh Meat

"I read it really quickly, which is always a good sign. It's so light on its feet and you think it's going to be about class and education and the battles we fight over culture, but it moves really laterally and then it turns a corner."

Joe isn't saying what's around that corner, beyond the fact the play becomes about family and chinks in the characters' armor and how his character Vincent "seems like a complete wind‐up merchant in the beginning but by the end he's deeply cut‐up".

In Jeremy Sams' adaptation Vincent is a father‐to‐be who, along with his partner Anna, is invited to dinner at his sister Elizabeth and her husband Peter's Peckham flat where childhood friend Carl is also in attendance. 

Then Vincent drops a bombshell about the name he's chosen for his offspring and, as the siblings and their significant others begin to pick at old sores and long‐held resentments, Carl has his own bombshell to drop.

At times they're a very un‐PC bunch as they bitch and bicker, with Sams' script artfully straddling the line between what's funny and offensive. 

After three Inbetweeners seasons and two feature films Thomas is no stranger to straddling the same line himself, saying: 

"It's an incredibly precise act of judgement that"s required but this play is an exploration of what PC actually is and I think that's interesting territory. 

"It shows the intelligence of the writing, how funnily and deftly that idea is explored."

The UK tour, which Sams is also directing is presented by Adam Blanshay Productions, with Adam himself hailing the play as "very funny but also very sophisticated and dark and a little sardonic"

He laughs: "And it's written from a neutral standpoint so everyone is offended and applauded in equal measure."

Having seen the French‐Canadian adaptation in his homeland of Montreal, Adam was excited to be able to bring it to the UK in 2017 with Jeremy Sams' acclaimed adaptation.

A few tweaks have been made for the touring production, with the producer pointing out:

"We're very much setting it in 2019 and Jeremy has done a great refresh of the script to make it relevant to today. 

"One of the things I'm keen to explore is how in a play that's driven by men the female characters have the upper hand in the end. 

"The last time we did the show it was pre‐#MeToo and now we're looking at it post‐#MeToo and bringing that female empowerment theme to it."

Alex Gaumond, the Canadian actor most recently seen in the West End revival of Company, is relishing playing Carl. 

"It's one of those roles that simmers. He's rarely the one who is driving the conversation but he has this massive secret so he could at any point drop the bombshell."

When he finally does then all comedy hell breaks loose, although the actor points out there are universal truths amongst all the laughs. 

"It's essentially about a family and everybody has a family, whether they're connected with them or not. 

"And most people, if not everyone, have been at a social dinner with family where everybody falls into the category they've evolved into overtime, like 'the joker' and 'the sensible one'.

"When all of those roles are completely twisted and turned around, as they are in the play with plot twists and people finally telling other people what they think of them, it's thrilling and hilarious to watch."

Completing the cast is Bo Poraj as Peter. The Miranda and Musketeers star feels What's In A Name? really taps into the zeitgeist. 

Peter and Elizabeth having given their children very quirky names. 

"And the fashion for strange names for kids is not something I've seen picked apart in public discourse before," Bo notes. 

"The play also picks up on universal themes like friendship and secrets and family."

Poraj also feels audiences up and down the country are ready for a cracking good

"This is 90 minutes of escapism and laughter. I hope people will find it entertaining and a sort of release. 

"We definitely need a bit of levity in these crazy times we're living in." 

What's in a Name? visits Theatre Royal Brighton from Wednesday 15th – Sat 18th April 2020. For tickets CLICK HERE.

by: Mike Cobley & Simon Button


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