Theatre Review – Too Clever by Half

Told by an Idiot describe their new production of the Russian playwright Ostrovsky’s social satire Too Clever by Half as ‘seriously funny… the perfect summer show for all the family’. It’s ironic to find that in his homeland of Russia, Ostrovsky’s play was, and still is, seen as a biting, vicious satire, used to illustrate social problems, rather than as family entertainment. Ostrovsky described the play as ‘savagely funny’ and while comparatively little is done to present the savagery and social satire inherent in the play, director Paul Hunter certainly picks up on the comedy aspect.

The play follows the efforts of Gloumov, a charming, ambitious and attractive young man, as he tries to break into the elite circle of Moscow society, using every trick in the book, and stepping on quite a few powerful toes on his way to the top. Told by an Idiot use the in-the-round structure of the Royal Exchange Theatre to present scenes of the play in surprising and comic ways, down to the hero being swept off on a trapeze as his aunt is “eaten” by her own sofa.

The company sidesteps some of the more cutting social remarks made by Ostrovsky in the play, choosing instead to concentrate on sight-gags and very theatrical, over the top scenes – plenty of laughs are provided, and the pace remains quick throughout the play. Everything from scene shifting to minor characters is used to create humour, and while the play never feels as though it could translate to a poignant message about our society, as a piece of theatre it doesn’t fail to entertain.

So, if you’re looking for a light night out with plenty of laughs, leave the younger kids with the babysitter, and set out for the Royal Exchange Theatre with the teenagers to enjoy Ostrovsky’s Too Clever By Half.

Too Clever By Half’ is running at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester till 17th August 2013.

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