Re(ad)dressing Napoleon In Napoleon Disrobed At The Arcola
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Based on a novel about his death, this alternative history is performed by Told By An Idiot, a company who employs a whimsical and unexpected 'larger than life' theatrical style to explore the human condition. From the raging seas to a melon shop on the Champs Elysses (and everywhere imaginable in between), the show follows a goofy, disarming and incognito Napoleon (Paul Hunter) as he makes his way back to Paris after swapping identities with a French soldier (Ayesha Antoine).
Employing great imagination and suspension of disbelief is key here; the plot is light and the modular wooden stage — while impressive in its constant metamorphosis (scene changes are as seamless as they are numerous) — is quite barren. Aside from a hilarious Napoleonic strategy on how to salvage a dysfunctional melon business, this story itself isn't particularly interesting, but does deliver laugh after laugh with its pseudo slapstick humour — imagine Napoleon trying to hang laundry in the middle of raging sea storm. Moreover the juxtaposition with modern life's amenities, such as hotel key cards, deepens the comedy as it contrasts how dramatically our daily concerns have evolved since those times.
A greatly imaginative performance, the effective use of sound and lighting also deepens the realism of the increasingly absurdist scenes. The ending is surprisingly anti climatic and its vaguery suggests this could just be the parable of a man experiencing illusions of grandeur from a borderline personality disorder.
Napoleon Disrobed, Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, E8 3DL. Until 10 March.
Last Updated 26 February 2018