LE Navet Bete Theatre Company (which if we are to believe a group of people who take very little in life seriously or with much reverence, translates as The Daft Turnip) have one great aim in life – to make people laugh.
In an era when many seriously-minded theatre groups appear to consider that entertainment is a dirty word, it is refreshing to find a company that simply loves to make people laugh and whose stated aim is that everyone should firstly enjoy theatre.
With skills honed over the last ten years, when former University of Plymouth students Dan Bianchi, Nick Bunt, Al Dunn and Matt Freeman joined together to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe, Le Navet Bete have become masters of the difficult art of performing physical comedy. Like the great farce teams found in earlier eras at the Aldwych and Whitehall Theatres, they bounce comedy ideas, verbally and visually, off one another, at great pace and with deceptive ease.
They know where every step, twist and turn on Ti Green’s multi-purpose set are to be found, and, aided by occasional interventions from stage manager Abi Cowen, the quartet produced a series of physical comedy business to match, and often surpass, the verbal humour which they and writer John Nicholson had created in their adaptation of Alexandre Dumas beloved romantic adventure story.
Although often looked at through the sort of distorting mirror you might find in a fairground, all of the wonderful characters, male and female, found in the novel are portrayed. And whether they be romantic figures like D’Artagnan’s beloved Constance, the French Queen or the evil scheming Milady De Winter, these were not caricatures but real people. None of those who portrayed Milady in Hollywood films since the “talkies” began oozed more evil sexual charm than Matt Freeman when he donned the wig and black leather costume of this untrustworthy lady.
Of all Le Navet Bete’s narrative-driven shows, it is Dracula: The Bloody Truth that so far leads the way when it comes to garnering the most laughs. This story doesn’t lend itself to creating as much humour as that send up of the “horror” genre and there are moments when you have the feeling that everyone is working a little too hard to gain that extra laugh or two.
When you have as accomplished a group of players and production personnel as are involved in this production, as capable of playing serious drama as high comedy, there was no need to push for even one extra response for a show which is a success in its own right, and stands comparison with those that have gone before them.
Le Navet Bete’s Three Musketeers is at Winchester Theatre Royal on 27th and 28th September and at The Princess Theatre in Torquay in February 2020.