A modest audience saw Adelaide’s wonderful Capri Theatre offer the perfect setting for Groucho, an 80-minute play about the life and times of the inimitable Groucho Marx.
Dennis Manahan handles the iconic role of Groucho with the ardour it deserves and requires. It takes time for Manahan’s performance to be accepted by the audience but once it is, Manahan recreates Groucho’s physicality and nuances well enough to sate the Marx Bros’ informed audience. Although he doesn’t truly come into his own until the second act, slurring his words pitch perfect as the elderly comic.
Anna Burgess is the big surprise of the show. Playing multiple male and female roles including Chico and Harpo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Groucho’s mother Minnie and alcoholic daughter Miriam while employing a range of accents convincingly.
The script does seem confused at times as if not quite sure where it wants to go. An extremely interesting scene between Groucho and Burgess, performing superbly as Charlie Chaplin, entertains possibilities that aren’t fully realised concerning the role of artists in politics – riffing over the top of the issue rather than delving into the core of motivation. This is disappointing especially when considering the author, Neil Cole, was an MP in Victoria for over 10 years.
The show is at its best when using the Marx Bros. own routines and singing some of their most loved songs including ‘Hooray for Captain Spaulding’, ‘Whatever it is, I’m against it’, ‘Dr. Hackenbush’ and ‘Lydia the tattooed lady’. Their talents are timeless and that, above all else, comes through loud and clear. No one needs to be familiar with their oeuvre to be able to enjoy this show although it’s hard to imagine anyone not knowing at least some of their brilliance.
The ending is a little confused and lacks aplomb – it leaves one with the sense that the show hasn’t quite been bedded down yet. Much better use could have been made of the lighting, for instance.
Still, it is a joy to see the Marx Bros. musical numbers and comedy routines performed live on stage. The material the actors, writer and director have to work with make it hard to fail and in the end they don’t. It’s a show worth seeing whether you’re a Marx Bros. aficionado or simply want to enjoy a show worth your money during The Fringe.
Groucho deserves more than its 2 performances and certainly a greater audience.