The Lady or the Tiger review – Theatre at the Tabard

Image above: The Lady or the Tiger; Theatre at the Tabard

Review by By Simon Thomsett

The Theatre at the Tabard’s latest production is a lively and thoroughly entertaining musical mini-extravaganza.

Adapted from a short story from the 19th century author Frank Stockton, The Lady or the Tiger tells the story of a despotic king who rules his “semi-barbaric” land according to his own whims and without mercy.

It’s a land where the population is unceremoniously bumped off at the age of 65 (cue some uncomfortable shuffling in the press night audience), where there is no educational problem because, well there is no education, and where a deadly version of bingo has lethal consequences for the losers, one of whom was the unfortunate late queen.

The bored king, looking to rebrand his kingdom as “semi-civilised”, dreams up a way to celebrate the opening of a splendid new arena by staging a public spectacle whereby a random criminal is taken there and forced to choose one of two doors: one opens to reveal a beautiful lady who the criminal must marry, the other a hungry tiger who will enjoy a tasty human snack.  All he needs to do is find that criminal…

Image above: Bob Karper as Factotum and Wayne Smith as King

The cast is full of charm. Bob Karper as the Factotum kicks things off and acts as narrator, holding things together with knowing nods to the audience whilst protesting his workload in having to play “half a dozen other parts and shift the scenes”. His comical struggles to learn a new deferential bow set the tone for the evening.

Wayne Smith plays the King with a pleasing insouciance as he takes a rather over-protective approach to parenting when it comes to his young (but not all that young) daughter who is decidedly “Daddy’s little girl” and thus exceedingly frustrated in her efforts to find love.

Image above: Georgie Rodgers as Princess and Juan Lobo as Hero

As the Princess, Georgie Rodgers is a star in the making and dazzles throughout, she gets a lot of the best tunes too and rises brilliantly to the occasion.

Finally, Juan Lobo, channelling Johnny Depp, makes a suitably louche Hero complete with added guitar playing, making him irresistible to the (ahem) eager Princess.

The cast are joined on stage by a two-piece band: Musical Director and pianist Philip Shute and double bass player Angus Tikka who play throughout and provide plentiful doo wops, sha la la la’s and deadpan backing vocals. Nola York’s powerful music is easy to like and in a show packed with earworms, the band and cast combine to great musical effect with well-honed voices and strong harmonies.

Image above: Wayne Smith as King, outlining his vision

Keith Strachan’s direction is direct to audience, pantomimical in places (there’s even a sing along moment) and finds a lot of highlights in Jeremy Paul and Michael Redmond’s witty and rich script. Stachan overcomes the limitations of a rather thin plot by keeping things moving along and adding some updating which sees both Donald Trump and Gollum make unlikely appearances.

This is an offbeat but engaging evening with a lot of surprises along the way. It’s a lot of fun.

The Lady and the Tiger runs to 23 March. Photographs by Charles Flint.

Simon Thomsett

Simon Thomsett

Simon Thomsett has worked in the professional theatre for a number of years. He started out as a stage manager and technician then became a venue director and producer, notably at the Hackney Empire, Fairfield Halls and most recently the New Victoria Theatre in Woking.

Since leaving full time work last year, he is now working as a consultant and on some small scale producing projects. He is a Chiswick resident and a passionate advocate for great theatre.