If you could travel back in time, who would you meet? Rosa Parks, Oscar Wilde, Nikola Tesla, Shakespeare, Che Guevara, and Aphra Behn would definitely be on my list.
Ronnie Leek‘s original comedy sees its hero meet H.G Wells and discover a time-travelling wheelchair. Born a fully grown man, Percy Trollope propels himself into the past to encounter several historical figures, before always returning back to 1895 to report back to Wells with his experiences. With three actors playing 23 characters, Trollope is a history lesson you won’t forget in a hurry!
Leek’s originality is admirable, and his writing displays a peculiar flair for the absurd, which is delightful to witness in these depressing times. His play steers clear of the overworn, clichéd historical characters that have populated time-travelling narratives in the past. There’s no Cleopatra, no Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn, and certainly no Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton. Instead, Leek delivers an eclectic mixture of those historical figures who have impacted history, but don’t instantly spring to mind. On his travels through time, Percy Trollope encounters Casanova, William Wordsworth, Nostradamus, and Sid Vicious, in addition to the more recognisable Julius Caesar and William Shakespeare.
Some of these characters work better than others. Travelling to 1750s Venice, Percy meets a young Giacomo Casanova, who struggles with his chat-up lines to women. Lustful and flirtatious, Kasey Christian gyrates her hips, exaggerates Casanova’s outrageous Italian accent, and creates a hilarious, yet utterly hopeless womaniser. Utterly inept of chatting up a woman without asking for “hanky panky“, thankfully Percy is there to give him advice.
Likewise, when Percy Trollope visits 1804 Grasmere, he meets the Wordsworths and hilarities ensue. Again, Christian steals the entire evening as an overly erotic Dorothy Wordsworth, who relates her sexual fantasies about Thomas de Quincey from her diaries, working herself up into a climax. Stephanie Riches‘ facial expressions are hysterical, as William Wordsworth looks on his sister, aghast.
Sadly, some of the characters aren’t quite as funny. Nostradamus feels like a filler character, whose predictions seem to be included in the play to introduce Adolf Hitler into the narrative. Depicting Hitler in a comedy always runs a risk of offending people. The company make it clear, in a leaflet on each audience member’s chair, that if you are easily offended, “you need to take a long hard look at yourself“, after all, you could always go and watch the Downton Abbey movie.
It is common knowledge that Hitler was rejected from art school twice, and this is the approach taken in Trollope, controversially suggesting that he is misunderstood. The play visually mocks the dictator, but the comedy here still feels a little unsavoury, and the scene is quite uncomfortable to watch. It is difficult to ignore the mass genocide that he committed. When you have a play packed with fantastically funny characters, the inclusion of Hitler seems unnecessary, risky and borderline.
It is hard to fault the three actors though, with Kasey Christian and Stephanie Riches proving that they have remarkable dexterity, being able to handle the frenetic pace of character changes, and to make it look effortless. Sustaining extraordinary energy throughout the performance, the pair have impeccable comic timing and give show-stealing performances. Although Pegeen Murphy is delightfully charming as our hero, there is no denying the sheer amount of work the other two actors had, and how magnificently they delivered it.
Although Trollope won the award for Best Comedy Play in 2018’s GM Fringe Awards, I personally found its characters to be a little hit and miss. Some were hilariously funny, meanwhile Hitler pushed it too far. Despite this, it is a delightfully entertaining, high octane adventure through time.