A Small Family Business Production Team

A fresher’s show always has a different sense of excitement for a theatre-goer in Cambridge than any other kind of production. The entire cast and crew, entirely new to performing in Cambridge, often have a freshness and enthusiasm for the show that sweeps one up along with them – and A Small Family Business, directed by Lucia Bowers, is no different. Additionally, on a personal note from a reviewer’s perspective, watching the next generation of talent in student theatre blossom on the ADC mainstage is always a delight – I am looking forward to seeing many of the cast from last night’s show on stages around Cambridge this year.

“Watching the next generation of talent in student theatre blossom on the ADC mainstage is always a delight” 

About conventional family man Jack’s (Alex Mentzel) farcical struggles with his dysfunctional and often criminally gifted extended family, Ackybourn’s play is well within his characteristic idiom of farce coupled with a spot of violence and a satire of convention. However, the fact it has been done (many times) before didn’t detract too much from this production. Ackybourn’s jokes are much of a muchness, but the cast worked them very well, largely hitting the key moments for provoking a big laugh from the audience. Mentzel bore the weight of the lead part very well, the rest of the cast playing successfully off the foundation of his ‘straight-man’ routine, the dynamic which underpins the play’s comedy.


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Though his accent was sometimes a tad erratic, Mentzel had a remarkable stamina, rarely being off stage and keeping the forward momentum of the whole piece moving – Jack is no small part and Mentzel acquitted himself well as the morally concerned patriarch. He and his wife Poppy (Hannah Gillott) were a treat to watch together, the depth and complexities of their relationship was captured wonderfully in Mentzel and Gillott’s performance together. Of course, no Ackybourn play is complete without it’s more colourful characters: Lara Shakhshir had excellent comic timing and successful poignant moments as Jack’s moody teen daughter Sammy, while Maddy Power’s performance as the neurotic, dog obsessed, unhappy wife Harriet had fantastic scene-stealing comic flair, with the audience in stiches nearly every time she opened her mouth.

With such a complicated plot and an intimidatingly large cast, it is not entirely surprising that A Small Family Business occasionally lost it’s sense of pace, especailly in the first half of the play where the conversations and interactions between characters sometimes felt like obvious exposition. A few technical hitches also didn’t help the occasional drops in pace, but they are the kind of thing I’m sure will be ironed out as the run goes on. These momentary lulls in energy never lasted too long however, the cast always found the way back to a more energised pace which fitted the frantic farce; by the denouement such a frenzied energy had been whipped up that I couldn’t look away, or stop laughing.

Bowers and her whole cast and crew have, despite the occasional technical or pacing difficulty, brought a fun and entertaining production to the ADC mainstage; for fans of Alan Ackybourn or those looking for an entertaining evening at the theatre with plenty of laughter, A Small Family Business at the ADC this week will not disappoint.