In this rather fine Peckham home, French teacher, Peter is somewhat fixated with words, names and their meanings and he falls hook line and sinker for brother-in-law, Vincent’s wind-up about baby naming, and so ends up accusing him of being egocentric. Throw the all-seeing, all-knowing minds of their wives (Elizabeth and Anna) into the mix. Plus, a surprise confession by old friend, Carl and that evening of convivial speak and social pleasantries turns somewhat savage – suddenly the gloves are off!
Definitely an echo of a family sitcom, with a touch of Abigail’s Party and Absent Friends in respect to being a social get-together which turns into a mighty barney.
I like the split thinking of this play’s structure. Firstly, there’s something perpetually fascinating about names. The title immediately gives away the fact that ‘names’ are going to be explored.
The other thread is nodding to the fact that people, in their huddles, pass judgement on others, share private jokes about others, and they hide such familiarity and bias from those involved.
It is toe curling then in various scenes when tensions are rising, that at any one time it is a spouse, a sibling, or a friend who is suddenly letting the ‘cat out of the bag’ in regard to a secret opinion that one pairing (or set) has held for another (or others) from within this party of five, and we laugh out loud at the reaction of the unfortunate, whoever it might be, when those words meets with the ears of the his or her who was never meant to hear them!
For example, take Carl and the revelation that for years he has been referred to by the others as ‘The Banana’ without his knowing! So funny!
Best of all we see the somewhat ensconced, Elisabeth deliver a wild rant, having had years of pent up anger and resentment toward her nearest and dearest all of which she has largely kept to herself and not shared with any of the others. Actor, Sarah Hadland’s speech earned her the biggest individual round of applause just before her character took herself off to bed in a strop.
I must say, I wasn’t chuckling that much for a long time. For a while it was one joke that went on too long. When I started laughing however, I was laughing all the way to the end.
Incredible set design and an experienced, professional cast. Recommended!
Nigel Harman – Vincent
Jamie Glover – Peter
Sarah Hadland – Elizabeth
Raymond Coulthard – Carl
Olivia Poulet – Anna
Photography by Robert Day
Theatre critic, Debra Hall attended press night of What’s in a Name? At Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Tues 31 Jan 2017.