Everybody knows that following his capture, Napolean Bonaparte spent his last days exiled on the isle of Elba. Or did he? Exploring the hypothesis that another person took his place on the isle, Napolean Disrobed (which is directed by Kathryn Hunter) has a premise that is inspired by likes of Alexander Dumas. It’s execution, however, isn’t played as a serious drama.
Paul Hunter plays the eponymous military leader, while Ayesha Antoine plays all the other roles. The beginning of the show acknowledges the ‘artificiality’ of the premise, but instead of taking a Brechtian tone, it adopts (and I mean this in the best possible way) a tone of ‘light entertainment’. Michael Vale’s set, which is designed to not maintain equilibrium when walked upon, aids Hunter’s Norman Wisdom-esque dexterity. Flexible, Antoine is at times the perfect foil for Hunter, as well as having a firm presence in her own right.
In some ways, the plot isn’t as important as the ‘journey’, as what one remembers is the physicality of the roles and the ease with which one laughs. Interaction with the audience can strike terror into some people, but the modicum that does occur is good-natured and really sets everyone in the frame of mind to have a good time.
I didn’t have any prior expectations about the show, but can recommend Naploean as tonic for clearing away the winter blues.
© Michael Davis 2018
Napolean Disrobed runs at the Arcola Theatre until 10th March.