Have you ever wondered what life was like for the upper echelons of society? What the wealthy are really like behind closed doors? The Mona Lisa Five stresses that you probably shouldn’t go to the party, even if you’re invited. James Hartley’s rich romp shows off just how deadly greed can be.
A group of old chums gather for after dinner drinks in Lord’s (Cam Ralph) lounge when he reveals his half-cooked plan to smoke out the thief of the stolen “Mona Lisa” he had stored in his vault. Not only are these five friends filthy rich and aligned with royalty, they’re also international art thieves. And now they’ve all been poisoned because at least one of them had a plot to double-cross the group and make-off with their stolen painting. So begins a late night interrogation in which lines are crossed, loyalties undermined, and more than one scandal broken.
Hartley’s farcical mystery script is rife with innuendo and outright crass humour that satirises the genre as much as the social elite. The characters regularly forget the stakes of the situation (literal life and death), and are much more focused on their romantic dalliances and maintaining their immense wealth. They hit all the tropes of rich caricatures including relationships with cousins, closeted homosexuality, and a deep distaste for the working class which extends to mockery at Arthur (Hartley) doing his own cooking.
The cast present a strong comedy ensemble with excellent comic timing and a keen eye for the balance between humorous over-dramatics and ham-fistedness. Brenton Amies plays Bertram, the outlier of the group who suffers both from his unrequited love of Claudia (Debbie Neilson) and his PTSD. Of all the characters, his seems the most muddled, perhaps with too much on his plate, but Amies manages to provide the majority of the narrative’s forward momentum. Neilson is a recognisable British rose, too posh for her own good, and in hopeless need of more attention. Emily Tighe as Millicent is a stand-out for her refined representation of the ignorance of privilege. In particular, Tighe and Neilson’s combined cattiness against the men, who they treat as oblivious playthings, is a juicy treat from the production.
Design by Aileen Fang sets the rambling shambles of an evening in Lord’s smallest castle on plush lounges and under the steady gaze of Lord’s father’s portrait, hung pride-of-place. A plethora of bottles of alcohol and mismatched silver drinkware propagates the show’s physical humour as much as it serves to punctuate the characters’ carelessness; knocking over drinks and misplacing bottles galore.
The Mona Lisa Five is a knotty comedy spun from a highly improbable premise for absolute silliness. While some of the asides appear more stumbling blocks than jokes, the commitment of the cast makes the night an overall devilishly messy good time.
The Mona Lisa Five is running at the Pop Up Stairs Theatre from September 30th – October 4th
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