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Review: Archy in Manhattan, Grand Opera House

Archy in Manhattan is based on a poem by American journalist Don Marquis
Jane Hardy

ARCHY in Manhattan is Marie Jones's inimitable take on Archy and Mehitabel, an early 20th century satirical poem by American journalist Don Marquis.

This work was part of my growing up, one of my father's favourite books.

The eponymous heroes are a cockroach and a female alley cat. Both intellectuals and reincarnations of Cleopatra and maybe Dante, they inhabit a sassy, absurd world.

It is not, you will have gathered, Ms Jones's normal theatrical territory.

Yet she conveys the New York, or rather Noo York, settings in real flair. And what you might call the Marie Jones repertory theatre do her and Marquis proud.

Dan Gordon's physical comic gift is well to the fore and his Brando-esque Freddie the rat who dies after an encounter with a mad Mexican tarantula (hilarious Michael Condron) and enters the reincarnation recycling bin is brilliant.

His theatre cat, an old ham bemoaning modern ways, is also genius.

The audience, who unlike your giggling reviewer took a while to warm to this American comedy, liked this. They also came alive at a hilarious Irish pub scene in the livelier second act with hep cats River-dancing all over the shop.

The felines reminded one of TS Eliot's 1930s exercise in letting down his hair. But this is an existential Cats.

It is touching too, with Archy our narrator and lynchpin nearly taking his own life.

Matthew McElhinney is outstanding throughout. He leaps about the simple stage as Archy types Fred's obituary on the freelance journalist's machine in the downtown apartment they co-inhabit, curls on a ladder as the depressed roach, and nervously avoids Tara Lynne O'Neill's deliciously predatory ladybird.

Of course, Archy and Mehitabel isn't about animals but about us, fitting into the tradition that includes Orwell, William Golding, CS Lewis, and Disney.

We see the class system, and the poverty of this furry underclass, as well as the fiery rebellion of the feline feminists led by dancer Mehitabel.

Abigail McGibbon inhabited the role of the female artist hindered by one damn litter after another perfectly.

Their rallying cry is the phrase "Toujours gai..." which is the phrase we used to use in Kent. It's all about survival, you see.

Catch it if you can.

Archy in Manhattan is at the Grand Opera House, September 3-8

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