Laughing Mirror Theatre Company is a relatively new young ensemble formed in 2017 by Chad Porter and based in Norwich and Lancaster. They create dynamic new comedic theatre that does indeed turn a mirror on some of the more ridiculous aspects of our lives.

This week the company are using the Emerson studio at the Maddermarket Theatre to preview two shows that they plan to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the principal clearing house for new stage talent in the UK.

The two shows are ‘Good Vibes Only’ written by Charlotte McEvoy and ‘Framed’ written by Chad Porter and James Darby. They follow their well received first show ‘Guy Fawkes It Up’ which they took to Edinburgh in 2017.

Good Vibes Only is a lively look at the Gloucester sex toy shop trade, which it seems is not what it once was. Four actors play various members of the shop staff as it packs away on its last day of trading. Generally the actors play characters of the opposite gender to their own apparent one, adding an extra layer of innuendo to the script that will doubtless enhance your knowledge of the scope and variety of dildos, Rabbits and countless other self pleasuring devices. Well it certainly enhanced mine.

The show is a fast paced single act presentation with the four dancing their hearts out as we take our seats in the rather hot studio. The four range from the middle aged shop owner Doris to the Duke of Edinburgh Award work placement student Gareth, with the other two being rather ebullient longer serving staff members. Each takes a turn or two sitting in a ‘Mastermind’ type spotlit chair to outline their own particular problems or challenges. The script takes us into the deeper thoughts and worries of each character in a pleasantly positive and non-judgemental way, enhanced by the gender swapping of the actors reinforcing the view that gender is a matter of self-identity and nobody’s business but your own.

The show is very funny throughout and the physical comedy of the actors moves and interactions with each other brought many chuckles from the audience here in a small studio so hot I am surprised that no-one passed out. The actors all wear bright pink T-shirts with the “Good Vibes Only’ logo of the imaginary sex shop they are in so the only clues to the character and identity of each role comes from the dialogue and performance and a bare minimum of props yet the characters are well developed and distinctive.

The show makes a poignant observation that the fall in the demand for a high street sex toy shop seems to mirror our changing sexual appetites. Doris is wistful about losing her trade and is a champion of the virtues of recreational sex. What will the future be for her and her mission to make loving more fun? Her dilemma is resolved with the help of her perky team of staff members.

I can imagine that the writer had a lot of fun creating this show and the great series of one-liners peppered throughout it but it has been directed and presented as a tight and competent show and will be a high point of the Edinburgh Fringe offer I am sure. As the show’s own flyer says: “It’s so good you’ll want to come twice!”

Framed is a six-hander which starts with the same device of the cast dancing as we take our seats, although this time it is more of a gentle shuffle than the exuberant rave moves of Good Vibes Only. Framed is a crime caper with a complex plot centred around several  overlapping plots to steal the Mona Lisa as the painting visits a London gallery. It has all the stereotypical characters you might expect, and many more. There are a pair of bumbling coppers called Bread and Butter to allow for a plethora of daft jokes, their fierce female boss who is not all she seems, a posh gallery owner and his upper class mates and partner, a clueless but determined petty crook Ashley Lancaster and his niece Trigger and a pair of threatening gangsters, a snooty Frenchman and many more. The cast rush around the small stage and whizz on and off set changing quickly and seamlessly into their new characters. There are many mishaps and twists and turns as the plots all unfold. There are also some rather fine witty observations of the curious world of art dealers and collectors. The names alone are all good for a laugh, my favourite was Reginald Squint the TV anchorman.

Once again this show is enormous fun, and shows the emergence of a house style for Laughing Mirror Theatre which is most enjoyable. No opportunity is missed for an extra gag or visual joke so we can all get swept up into the hysteria of this fast paced show. This company will definitely put Norwich on the map for Edinburgh fringe-goers (yes we are right down there – head South, turn left at Peterborough and if you get to Great Yarmouth you have gone too far!) and on the basis of these two accomplished shows they are a company to watch out for. If I was struggling with the choices of what to see from the Edinburgh programme I would pick these two shows first – they both set the standard that other shows will be judged by. Great fun, lively acting and fresh, lively scriptwriting.

© Julian Swainson 2018

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