According to Greek legend, Tantalus offended the gods by sharing their divine ambrosia with mere mortals. In retribution he was condemned to spend eternity tormented by luscious fruits dangling agonizingly out of the reach of his desperate fingertips. Watching the University Theatre's production of Tom Stoppard's knockabout comedy On the Razzle is reminiscent of that ancient unfortunate's fate: the mouthwatering juiciness of the script is, in spite of their best efforts, tantalizingly beyond the grasp of the players.
The production is charmingly and imaginatively directed by Cecil MacKinnon, but the feeling is one of generality, and Stoppard (above all playwrights) demands precision. The energetic cast of students frequently falls into the trap of bulling through the lines, rather than having the patience (or, perhaps, the confidence) to allow the audience to catch up to what is being said. Consequently, too many of the ingenious puns and crafty double entendres are lost in the garbled delivery. Nevertheless, there are a number of delightful performances in this deliriously convoluted tale of mistaken identity, social satire and sexual innuendo.
As a pair of downtrodden shop assistants who grab their chance to sample the bright lights of 1890s Vienna, Josh Krevsky and Katheryn Bilbo start slowly but grow steadily into an engaging rascally couple. Bilbo's playful physicality is matched by rubber-legged troublemaker Charlie Bauer, while Ashley Jeffrey and Leia Espericueta both show some deft comic touches. They are all topped, however, by Steve Wojtas, who is wickedly funny as a lascivious coachman, and Becky Chicoine, the saucy French maid who attracts his attention. Their combined audacity almost steals the show.
Technically, the production is a mixed bag. Sylviane Jacobsen's set, artfully complemented by Greg Hofmann's lighting, is a Rubik's Cube of ingenuity. The pieces rotate, overlap and interlock in a clever reflection of the complexity of the action. Unfortunately, the background music is often obtrusive, and the choreography in at least one scene goes on far too long.
Stoppard can defeat even the most mature performers, so the cast is definitely to be commended for attempting such an exacting piece. But while this razzle certainly doesn't fizzle, it doesn't exactly dazzle either.