Code of the West at the Tabard Theatre
Loosely based on a true story, Code of the West tells of the life of a little-known English eccentric named Joshua Abraham Norton who proclaims himself to be the Emperor of the United States and who wanders San Francisco in military gear and a feathered cap.
Norton has a staff of two sexually frustrated, semi-gentlemanly gentlemen who run his official imperial bank and the official imperial newspaper respectively. When an article run by the official newspaper catches the eye of a practised American con woman, things escalate quickly. She persuades a friend to disguise herself as a Russian countess and sets about fooling the deluded Emperor into marrying her – cue the hilarity.
Unfortunately hilarity misses its cue slightly here, meaning much of the razor-sharp historical satire of the text is lost on an audience whose attention is firmly on the melodramatic acting style employed by the entire cast. Thankfully Norton’s character, played by David Janson, does not fail to endear the audience to his over-styled and eccentric ways, and this dynamism helps to complement his wife-to-be’s Russian disguise, which is brilliantly exploited for comic value. It is so evident how much fun the actress, Lucinda Forth, is having playing a character disguised as another character that it’s possible to forget there isn’t much to really laugh about throughout the rest of this farce-comedy – unless you count the occasionally really bad American accents.
Despite this, with time, Code of the West could be a play that audiences come to love once it has been honed by the current cast. In such a small theatre, located above a pub in Turnham Green, the intensified characterisation might grate slightly. There really is no need for a four-second eye roll when you’re addressing less than 100 audience members, and the action may play second fiddle to the very wordy satirical script (be prepared for a lot of card playing and talking), but nevertheless, the story of Norton is an appealing one, and writer and director Mark Giesser could well be onto something.
Code of the West is at the Tabard Theatre until 9th November 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.