Animal Crackers

Thursday, 18 March, 1999

'Animal Crackers' is written by George S.Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind with music and lyrics by Bert Kalmer and Harry Ruby. It originally opened in New York in October 1928 at Broadway's 44th Street Theatre, starring the Marx Brothers, and soon after it was made into a film.

This crazy show has been brought to life by two directors, Emil Wolk and Gregory Hersov, who have tried to capture the same zany comedy as the original. Did they succeed? Yes, I think they did, but only because of the superb performances of Ben Keaton (Groucho), Joseph Alessi (Chico) and Toby Sedgwick (Harpo) whose impersonations of the Marx Brothers was not only perfect, but sensational and very very funny with exceptional timing and delivery. And it needed to be for the show to be a success.

The plot is very simple. A society hostess has a weekend party to show off her newly acquired sculpture. However, chaos reigns when 'Captain Spalding - The Guest of Honour' (Groucho) arrives, followed by 'Emmanuel Ravelli' (Chico), a fake wide-eyed Italian boy, and his partner 'The Professor' (Harpo), a dumb musician. There is then the usual Marx Brothers mayhem that will have you falling about laughing, particularly if you like the Marx Brothers, but even if you don't, you should still find it entertaining even though it is all rather silly and at times childish.

As well as the Marx brothers there are some other colourful characters and great performances, like 'Mrs Rittenhouse', the Hostess, played masterly by Jean Challis, and a superb performance from George Khan as 'Hives' her butler. Also, not forgetting a stupendous performance from Peter J. Elliott as 'Rosco W Chandler', a Financier & Patron of the Arts who is hiding something from his past!

The show has received reasonable notices from the popular press: BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES says, " All three brothers are very well played" and goes on to say "You will enjoy yourself if you are in the mood for archival humour." Alexander Games of THE EVENING STANDARD" says "Ben Keaton breezed into the part of Captain Spalding as if the old man had sold him his comedic mantle on his death-bed", and goes on to say "It's full Marx for trying." LISA MARTLAND of THE STAGE says, " There is much to savour, particularly when the brothers supposedly go off the book and start ad-libbing, to the audience's delight." However, JOHN PETER of THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "The Marx Brothers are an acquired taste, and I've never aquired it."

Lasting two and half-hours 'Animal Crackers' goes by at a cracking pace with plenty of funny scenes and many great one liners, particularly from 'Groucho'. But be warned there is a lot of crowd participation, so be on your guard!!

(Darren Dalglish)

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