In Stand and Deliver, a pair of dastardly 18th Century aristocrats have set out to con investors in an exotic Spice Islands venture. They need to get hold of the deeds to a crucial island from the local squire, but they’ve been stolen by the dashing dandy highwayman, who has all the ladies’ hearts aflutter and all the men dreaming of catching him. Into this scenario steps a mysterious young woman, Eve, determined to find the highwayman and join him. Oh, and a stuffed lobster plays an important role.
It's a classic set-up for a farce, but the company have decided to go for a Tarantino-esque action-comedy angle to give it a bit of an edge. The thing is though, if you want to go dark, then you’ve really got to go all-in; and because so much of this performance is simply traditional silly British farce, the darkness just jars. We get all the stereotypes we might expect: cringing servants, foppish cads, a boastful balladeer. Stereotypes aren’t necessarily a problem in a show like this, but you do have to do something interesting with them, and the plot here is entirely predictable.
Jasmine Horn is an impressive presence as Eve, who is clearly the character we are supposed to identify with through the play. The difficulty is that, early on, she carries out a particularly uncomfortable murder. Ostensibly, the woman she kills deserves it – but the character in question has been introduced as sexually transgressive, purely to justify her murder. So while on the one hand we have the badass strong woman, we also have the stereotypical female victim.
And it repeats in another case, a stretched-out comical shooting scene, which would have worked if we felt that the victim had had it coming – one of the actual shooters would have been the perfect choice. But no. It appears that, apart from Eve, the principal role of the female characters is to be introduced and almost immediately murdered.
There are a couple of slow-motion scenes bathed in red light that work fabulously well, in particular the set-piece highway robbery. And that’s annoying, because it shows that the talent is there; it just isn’t delivered across the piece. There are plenty of jokes, but too many of them simply don’t fire, and many others elicit the bad-joke half-laugh/half groan. I don’t think the wide stage helps – it takes time to move around on it – which can cost the farce the pace it sometimes needs.
Stand and Deliver is just not good enough. It's self-satisfied, it gets a few laughs and polite applause; but everything needs to be sharper, tighter, wittier. Tobacco Tea need to look at every aspect of the production and ask how could they do it better. The Tarantino angle could work, but you have to commit completely. Must try harder.