An Evening at the Manor

KPMG is a business which employs over 150,000 people around the world to regulate big businesses and make sure they’re doing alright. But who will watch the watchers?

This question was hopefully answered in February 2013, when their Arts Societies put on their first evening of entertainment this decade. The Societies were set up in 2006, akin to a university society, giving members of a large body a chance to come together through shared loves of music, drama and creativity.

This show has been four years in the planning. In many ways, wrote Nick Thomas the director in the programme, this was “our most ambitious” show ever. The evening’s aim was not a conventional sit-and-be-entertained, but a House Party. Beneath Nick’s note, one is warned that there is “synthetic fog, pyrotechnic flashes and a cap gun”, like in a real and proper production.
No Am-Dram this. You’d expect a proper evening from a company which deals in checks and balances.

Bridewell Theatre, yards from Fleet Street, is the venue. It used to be a swimming pool in the 19th Century and, after being barren for a while, became a performance space, with really good acoustics, in 1994. For the last eight years they have provided a place for workers in and around the area to munch their lunch with culture attached (reminding me of when I sat and heard concerts in between Latin language classes and Greek tragedy seminars). For four evenings – I saw the opening evening’s performance – the floor was KPMG’s, with proceeds of the £12 ticket going to Shelter and Action for Literacy, two worthy causes.

The first hour of the show was a production of the one-act play The Real Inspector Hound, by Sir Tom Stoppard, which has just celebrated 50 years since its first performance. Dominic Kent (of whom more later) and James Reardon, the latter in a fetching wig, play the two critics who become immersed in the play they are seeing in a one-act fifty-year-old play that seems a precursor to the surrealism of Charlie Kaufman’s writing.

Abigail Gallagher, a company secretary, nails the supporting character Mrs Drudge, playing it onomatopoeically with an assured believability. Gavin Robbins, acting for the first time in two decades, hams up the role of Simon, the visitor caught between a farcical plot that almost defies description. The well-cast leading ladies Felicity and Cynthia (played by Suzannah Bennett and Katie Enyon) are also assured, giving truth to their experience which the programme details.

Kuwait-born Ayushman San, as Magnus, plays a good paraplegic and holds a good gun; the bombastic Inspector Hound (Siddarth Nandakishoran) provides bluster in a rather Boris Johnsonian manner. Mardon Dosmukhamedov lies still for an hour, and gets the biggest applause, in his role of ‘The Body’.

After the interval, some jazz from Sound Advice. In a room with the bar at the back of the theatre space this would have been perfect, but the venue didn’t allow for that; as if for a KPMG summer placement, people drifted in and out of the space during the second half, the audience fragmenting as the evening went on.

The three-piece band, of course, can’t be faulted for this. They were terrific; freshly back from the Economic Forum at Davos where they may well have provided the soundtrack to powerful people chomping on canapés, Sound Advice gave it the full lounge treatment. Piano, bass and drums backed some stunningly pretty ladies who are on the KPMG payroll; three singers took turns coaxing standards out of their larynxes, and provided a contrast with the very British comic songs also included in the programme. The highlight of these was a fluey Ben Foulser giving Flanders and Swann the rounded vowels and enunciated consonants they so deserve. Ben’s a good bandleader too, and the best (to-be-verified) Technology Risk Consultant Manager to also play double bass and sing tenor.

A successful evening for Nick Thomas, who sang, acted as Master of Ceremonies and played some piano too, and for producer Dominic Kent, who stole the evening with his alter ego Dominick Zwolinski. Cup-and-ball sleight of hand, magic hankies, sawing his glamorous assistant Imelda in half, making water and whisky swap places…There’s a reason why Dominick (can we believe this?) spent a gap year working in Covent Garden, and has since then impressed at corporate events including “HSBC, MoD and Fulham FC”.

Dominic produced the show, and writes theatre reviews at TheatreThoughts.com, where I found the advert for this House Party. For the final two performances, Herr Zwolinski opened the second half, the magic before the music, which “worked much better”, his spokesman Mr Kent assured me.

The productions are biannual, so watch out for the next one, which will have to go some way to topping this terrific celebration of talented folk who happen to work for KPMG for a living. ‘They’ do say it’s one of the world’s best companies, and they are certainly good company.

Words by Jonny Brick

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  1. Pingback: Review of An Evening at Muldoon Manor | Theatre Thoughts Blog

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