Adelaide Fringe: Groucho at home in the beautiful Capri Theatre

Dennis Manahan as Groucho. Image: supplied
Dennis Manahan as Groucho. Image supplied

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.

One thought on “Adelaide Fringe: Groucho at home in the beautiful Capri Theatre

  • I for one was in the audience on Friday at the Capri Cinema and thoroughly enjoyed the Groucho show. Dennis Manahan’s stamina was supreme and his on stage aging was a delight to behold. To move around the stage with bent knees in the Groucho croucho stance would have been arduous at best. Anna Burgess’ multi-part performance was exemplary and encapsulated each character wonderfully. Her many accents used and not mixing one with the other, effortless. In some parts of the play the timing was a bit out but that comes with the smoothing effect of many performances. The cheque writing scene for instance was almost without dialogue. Some fill-in mumblings would have helped with continuity. All in all a worthwhile play to attend. And chatting with the performers after the show was a pleasure. Full marks must also go to the producer Tanje Ruddick of Cornerstone Productions based in Melbourne. Tanje was also handling the lighting and sound and other off-stage technicals. And as for the venue, I’m speechless. It is a classic art deco cinema/theatre, complete with a Wurlitzer pipe organ fitted out with percussion instruments and many ranks of pipes set behind glass. Well done everybody.


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