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Napoleon: A Defence
Published on Thursday, 10 May 2012

4 stars

The Warren (venue website)
5-7 May, 3:00pm-4:00pm
Reviewed by Jonathon Manning

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 Warning: Contains flashing lights.

Before the show has even begun, Le Navet Bete will make you smile, as the cast show you to your cabin aboard HMS Boat.  With the ship is ready to depart – and the audience already being entertained by Private Party – the voyage takes an unexpected twist, thanks to the arrival of Major Blunt and his prisoner, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Played by Dan Blanchi, Major Blunt is the perfect straight man to Matt Freeman’s Private Party, as the duo explain how Blunt captured the elusive Napoleon.  A confusing incident means a letter intended for Napoleon ends up in the possession of a textile artiste (Freeman), a chef (Blanchi), a wine producer (Nick Bunt), and the village look out (Alex Dunn).  It is down to these four clowns to deliver the letter and save Napoleon.

Their inevitable adventure sees them bumble their way through France, England, and for some reason Austria, with hilarious consequences and a few creative uses of props as transport.  Each of the cast play multiple roles, as the audience is introduced to the charmingly English buffoon the Duke of Wellie (Bunt), as well as the beautiful Josephine (Freeman).  Credit is due to each of the performers, who cope with their different roles and switch between characters with ease.  But Bunt and Freeman deserve special note, showing Le Navet Bete’s experience through their relaxed improvisation – which always gets a laugh even when a joke goes wrong.

Being clowns, the on-stage humour ranges from obvious physical comedy to subtle, more self-aware, jokes.  One instance following a prolonged interactive sequence saw Dunn, in his role as the village lookout, confessing that he “hates panto”, much to the audience’s amusement.  This same self-awareness allows the troupe to play around with the lighting and more technical elements of the stage, in a way which makes even death a laughing matter.

Napoleon: A Defence is a show all the family will enjoy – whether it’s the children laughing at stage-combat punches, or dad chuckling at a witty quip from the cast.  The only problem with the piece came at the end of Major Blunt’s tale, which strangely spins 180 degrees, idolizing the man he’s tried so hard to capture.  This feels oddly out of place in a piece which has successfully made light of a few grisly ends, and could easily have done the same with a character who is never actually seen on stage. This, however, is a minor detail – and not one that changes my recommendation to see Le Navet Bete, whenever you have the opportunity.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.