Last Updated on 15th July 2022
Paul T Davies reviews Jack Absolute Flies Again at the National Theatre London.
Jack Absolute Flies Again.
14 July 2022
The anticipation for this show is almost as high as a Spitfire can fly. Postponed due to the pandemic, Jack Absolute reunites Richard Bean and Oliver Chris, (a stand-out star of One Man Two Guvnors and a host of other plays), but this time as co-writers in their raucous update of Sheridan’s The Rivals. Now set in 1940 as the Battle of Britain begins to rage, the update works gloriously with all the Restoration tropes in place, with a 21st-century wink looking back at the 40s. It’s been a while since I’ve been part of an audience in hysterical laughter, roaring the roof off at certain points, and stilled by the events that occur towards the end of the play.
The RAF have requisitioned Mrs. Malaprop’s country pile, and the pilots are in the mood for love between sorties. The play lampoons stiff upper lip Englishness and the image of the British hero, superbly, Jack Absolute, (the excellent Laurie Davidson), the perfect example, an image further stretched in his Army father, Sir Anthony Absolute, an almost show-stealing performance by Peter Forbes, a wonderful example of outraged Gammon throughout. I was glad to see the diversity of the crews finally portrayed, with hilarious Australian Bob ‘Wingnut’ Acres vividly portrayed by James Corrigan and Akshay Sharan able to comment on Britishness as poet Bikram ‘Tony’ Khattri. Flying the planes around the airfields is Lydia Languish, the object of every heterosexual male’s affection, spurned lover of Jack Absolute and pitch-perfect in Natalie Simpson’s knowing performance. Add to this riotous mix Jordan Metcalfe as Roy, whose physicality is hilarious, and Kelvin Fletcher as “up t’North” Dudley Scunthorpe as the object of female affection and the comedy ratches up very well, especially in the first half.
If the evening does belong to one actor though, it’s Caroline Quentin’s outstanding tour-de-farce as Mrs. Malaprop. She can now, of course, get away with saying absolutely anything- and she does! Her addresses and asides to the audience set the night up perfectly, and I also loved the maid Lucy, Kerry Howard storming the vast Olivier, puncturing the pomposity of theatre itself, “I’m a dramatic device!” Huge congratulations also to Tim Steed who conveys beautifully and amusingly the gay longing of Brian Coventry, (not an accident that he is called Coventry), yearning to hear the words “I’m a Brian too”!
Emily Bruns’s production is beautifully and sharply paced, and the design is glorious, projections staging battles above our heads in the Olivier. There’s a roof-rousing dance in Act Two, and then a change of tone, which I felt the company handled very well. Whilst it perhaps doesn’t give us the jitterbug dance finale we were anticipating; it does honour The Few. It was just what I, and the audience, needed, a rollicking good night out at the theatre, and Jack Absolute doesn’t just fly, in parts it soars. Expect a West End transfer!