At its peak moments the play becomes a sort of Renaissance version of Reeves and Mortimer. Actors Jack Corcoran and Ralf Higgins play the hapless proto-scientists Reynaldo and Fernando, as well as the other 24 characters that appear on the stage, with terrific energy. Lusty old men are battered about the head with tea trays, a tremendously camp Christopher Marlowe minces and murders his way around Italy, livelihoods are wagered on the theory that the world is shaped like a cake. It’s brilliantly performed, with excellent comic timing and hilariously economical use of props and scenery. Like the aforementioned comedy duo, what it should be doing is barrelling along from gag to gag, without giving the viewer a chance to think about where it’s all going or what it might mean. Any gaps or longeurs and people are going to notice that the whole thing is just a lot of mucking about.
Gaps and longeurs, however, there are. Things we’ve already been told are repeated to us in song. The scene in which Marlowe is dispatched to Italy is essentially a static and not terribly funny monologue about political economics. A speech given at the beginning in voice-over is repeated in its entirety towards the end. These are all things which other productions might get away with, but against a background this frenetic they stick out like an overstuffed codpiece.
It’s not often that the title of a play hints at the best way to review it, but in this case it’s obvious that the writer himself has been trying his hand at some wild alchemy – a desperate combination of ingredients. Renaissance vulgarity, post modern fourth-wall-breaking larks, Benny Hill-esque chase scenes, all are thrown together in no particular order, and sometimes to no particular effect. It’s mad, pretty and occasionally makes a glorious bang. You can’t help feeling, however, that with a little bit more careful distillation Lambert might have come up with comedy gold.