Review: Hats Off

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Back by popular demand, Hats Off is a tribute to the great British musical comedy duo of the 50s and 60s, Michael Flanders and Donald Swann. Jonathan Roxmouth and Louis Zurnamer have once again teamed up, under the direction of Alan Swerdlow, to give a wickedly clever rendition of some of their favourite songs in a medley of quick wit, satire, piano and song. For lovers of music and comedy, it is a cream bun of delight.

In the Theatre on the Bay’s small and intimate theatre, the stage set is warm and somehow familiar, making the audience feel like guests in the home of the actors. The stage is adorned with a baby grand piano, a fireplace and a humorous take on classical paintings such the ‘American Gothic’ with the faces of Roxmouth and Zurnamer replacing those of the farmer and his daughter. Attired in formal trousers and smoking jackets, they employ a variety of hats to assist with the characterization of their light-hearted satirical songs.

The song selection strides happily through Flanders and Swann’s best known collections: The Bestiary, At the Drop of a Hat and At the Drop of Another Hat, including such all time favourites as ‘The Gas Man Cometh’, ‘Have Some Madeira M’Dear’ and ‘First and Second Law of Thermodynamics’, with some wonderfully South African-ised lyrics in ‘Warthog’ and ‘The Reluctant Cannibal’.  Each and every one is a hit, not least for its self-indulgent joy in rhythm and rhyme and the vagaries of the English language, but for the infectious delight taken by Roxmouth in his singing, and by Zurnamer in his crisp playing.

Roxmouth and Zurnamer have a good, cheerful on-stage chemistry. Roxmouth, who in the role ofFlandershandles most of the dialogue, is especially good at providing smooth and witty transitions of topics that are often utterly unrelated. Zurnamer is altogether a milder presence, much as Swann himself was, providing harmonies, a masterful skill on the piano and a gentle wit.  He takes the lead in just one song, ‘The Armadillo’, a creature who suffers from the unrequited love of an armoured tank, and Zurnamer imbues the song with a plaintive emotion that the more cynical Roxmouth might be pushed to find.

Hilarious one-liners come thick and fast throughout and Roxmouth’s delivery seems almost unscripted. Particularly impressive is the pair’s flawlessness in singing tongue-twister songs at a jawbreaking speed. The silliness in the show never veers into the stupid but remains witty and delightful throughout, keeping the audience laughing from curtain up to standing ovation.

Lauren Vogt

Hats Off runs at the Theatre on the Bay to 6 July

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