Rowan Atkinson’s evolving character was at his wickedly funniest in this Elizabethan-era series, wielding his condescending, sardonic wit like Flashheart wielded his oversize codpiece. The second instalment of Blackadder also introduced us to Queenie, Nursie and Lord Melchett, all classically ridiculous British caricatures.
Rep Invercargill’s production of Blackadder – The Golden Age is essentially a mashup of Blackadder II’s greatest hits. lf you know the TV series (I’m going to assume you do, so this shouldn’t be a spoiler), it’s an age-old story of boy meets girl disguised as a boy, boy falls for boy/girl and questions his sexuality, boy owes money, boy is strapped for cash, boy is kidnapped, boy is in danger of losing his head or suffering an agonising death, boy wins girl, boy … well, you know the rest.
It’s a farce that pushed boundaries and was as un-PC as they came in the 80s, and with very little moderation this classy production is steadfastly true to Ben Elton and Richard Curtis’s brilliantly irreverent source material.
The absolute key to the comedy is in the accurate portrayal of those great characters, and kudos to this belter of a cast for getting it so right.
It would have been a fail so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel if Callum Fowler, the actor given the daunting task of playing the title role, hadn’t been so good at it, but this, dear readers, is where Blackadder – The Golden Age excels from the start.
As the one-liners fly and the stupidity spirals, Fowler’s is the familiar scheming, conniving, self-serving voice of sarcastic disdain we know and love. Even his accent is bang on. Fowler is never less than utterly convincing. It’s a memorable, seamless, unfaltering performance, made even more remarkable because of the huge share of the dialogue he has to deliver.
Maggie Pirie is wonderful as Queen Elizabeth I, aka Queenie. She has the immature and quickly bored monarch down pat, and the sing-song, childlike inflection of the voice is the very echo of Miranda Richardson’s original character.
Travis Luke is quite hilarious as the vacuous fop Lord Percy and Michael Buick is a towering figure as the sycophantic lord chamberlain Melchett. In one brief rapid-fire exchange the sparring between Fowler and Buick is as good as I’ve seen on a live stage. The actors are clearly in the moment.
Dave McMeeking immerses himself with obvious glee in the spectacularly corrupt vulgarity of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and Ashleigh Reid as Mollie the prostitute steals scenes every time she crosses the stage. You’ll see what I mean.
Mat Rohan gets time to regale the audience with his hilarious Germanic mispronunciations as Prince Ludwig the Indestructible and Lyndal Ludlow is all loveable serenity as the harmlessly stupid Nursie.