The poster for What’s In A Name? features a baby with a neat toothbrush moustache that is remarkably similar to that of a certain German dictator. No, you may think, surely they wouldn’t. Indeed, they do. Based on the French film and play Le Prénom, Jeremy Sams directs, translates and adapts this touring production starring The Inbetweeners’ Joe Thomas, producing a show that will be enjoyed by exactly the audience it is likely to attract.
Set over the course of a dinner party of ‘the trendy left’, pot-stirrer and father-to-be Vincent (Thomas) causes an uproar when his fellow guests learn about the name he intends to give his son. Thus follows an evening of accusation, revelations, and rug-pulls.
Thomas’ adolescent schtick has evolved into a quick-witted, overconfident salesman’s smarm that steals the show. He appears to live in a bubble of self-amusement, one which is hilariously shattered by the end of the play. It is a pity, however, that aside from Vincent the characterisations are so forgettable, with only a handful of sharply written lines between them (such as ‘this is pseudo-intellectual pick’n’ mix, AKA bollocks’). They come off as a collection of standard-stock WASPs who happen to be thrown into unlikely scenarios and conflicts.
Nevertheless, those scenarios and conflicts are consistently funny and drive the plot into dangerous and cringe-worthy territory. As Elizabeth, Sarah Lambie’s climactic and ferocious outburst is a sight to behold. Even so, the over-shadowed and ultimately hysterical female host is a sorely outdated model and epitomises the play’s frustrating power dynamics and gender roles.
Equally disappointing is the unwelcome appearance of Peter (Tom Datnow), the typical father who doesn’t spend enough time with his kids we have all seen many times before. Although the cast give solid performances all-round, and What’s In a Name? delivers exactly what it promises, audiences deserve a lot more when it comes to comedy.