Independent Theatre
Goodwood Institute Theatre
Until 05 May 2018

Review by Paige Mulholland

There have presumably been obnoxious, power-hungry men since the dawn of time, but it seems that they’ve been getting more obnoxious lately. Whether they want to Make America Great Again, intimidate foreign countries with nuclear machismo or bribe a few senators to make their lives a little easier, news headlines and conversations are dominated by toxic masculine dominance. While Independent Theatre’s “Born Yesterday” doesn’t exactly provide a break from this, it does take a critical, comedic look at how these men’s confidence can be their undoing, inspired by one particular Twitter-loving American president who shall not be named.

“Born Yesterday” is the story of Harry Brock (Stuart Pearce), a shady businessman looking to bend the law to expand his empire. After an awkward encounter with a complicit senator (David Rapkin) and his wife (Bronwyn Ruciak), Harry and his lawyer Ed (David Roach) decide that his girlfriend Billie Dawn (Madeleine Herd) is not polished or intelligent enough to mix in these newer, more intellectual circles they are trying to infiltrate. They enlist journalist Paul Verrall (Jonathan Johnston) to tutor her. Billie learns fast – too fast for Harry’s liking – and becomes critical of the shady company she has found herself in, and sets to make a change. The show also features Greg Janzow as Eddie Brock, Thomas Tessema as the Bell Captain/Barber and Jenna Bezuidenhout as Helen/Manicurist.

The show is well written, managing to be very authentic to its time period without feeling antiquated – it probably helps that every word that comes out of Harry’s mouth feels like it could have been tweeted by Trump 12 hours ago. The final scene seemed to talk itself in circles, but the entire show was very popular with the large audience, earning plenty of laughs and groans. It would have been interesting to see a more two-dimensional Harry (a criticism of the writing, not the performance), and it felt like we only scratched the surface of Ed Devery’s character, but overall the script is easy to consume while still maintaining a political message – a tough line to walk.

Stuart Pearce is dripping with sleazy, macho, Trumpy energy in this performance, so much so that you want to shake his hand and then wipe yours subtly on your shirt. Complete with a consistent and distinctive American accent and impeccable knowledge of his lines, character and blocking, he leads the ensemble well. Madeleine Herd looks and behaves perfectly as Billie Dawn, but the accent and vocal tone could be more consistent; this role seems to beg for a Lily St. Regis-style nasal twang. Paul Verrall and Ed Devery both also provide consistently-characterised and polished performances, as does the rest of the cast – an excellent and well-cast team of actors all-round.

This strong ensemble performance is backed up by an excellent, luxurious set and beautiful costumes – so much so that if Independent Theatre were to replicate some of Billie’s outfits and sell them as merchandise, they could probably fund their 2019 season.

“Born Yesterday” is highly enjoyable and backed up by a talented cast, crew and creative team. Is it a realistic commentary on how Trump will meet his undoing? Probably not, unless Melania is a lot more crafty than she seems. But hey, we can dream, right?