One Sandwich Short of a Genius

Pending nuptials provide the perfect backdrop for Big Telly's chaotic farce featuring a cast of fine comic actors and an hilarious script by Zoë Seaton and Shelley Atkinson

To say that the latest production from Big Telly Theatre Company has been an unprecedented success with audiences across the country would be an understatement. Created by Big Telly founder, Zoë Seaton, and Shelley Atkinson – who also plays ‘mum’, June Talbot, in the play – One Sandwich Short of a Genius entertains from beginning to end.

Indeed, from the whirlwind opening scene – here performed at Coleraine’s Riverside Theatre as the tour reaches its climax – which throws us right into the Talbot family’s chaotic morning, I'm hooked.

Mum scuttles around the stage like a nervous mouse but has a roar to be reckoned with, while the grown-up kids seem slightly wired to the moon. Dad, meanwhile, is AWOL.

An embryonic version of the play debuted in 2014, in fact, but Big Telly have revived it with a bit more bite in 2015. Essentially, the story centres on the imminent wedding of daughter Becky, played by the ever brilliant Clare Lamont.

As the Big Day approaches, mum frantically plans for the pending nuptials. But Becky seems overly jumpy about her fiancée, Dave (Andy Murray), son Kenny – an aspiring champion rower – is stirring up the chaos, and questions about dad's whereabouts are piling up.

As it turns out, dad has gone off to find himself, and June’s genius idea is to hire an actor to play him. The kids will never notice, right? Not quite.

Kenny, played by Patrick J O’Reilly (who excelled as the Emcee in Bruiser's recent production of Cabaret) has his suspicions, but he and Becky are not the sharpest tools in the box, and hilarity ensues as the charade continues.

Fake dad is played brilliantly by Michael Diana. As a jobbing actor, this new role is a dream come true. As it happens, however, he only adds to the mayhem by constantly breaking into song while attempting to create the illusion of a perfect family.

Mum, June is arguably the scene-stealer throughout. She is the glue that holds the Talbots together, always determined to maintain the right image, even as all crumbles around her. When Becky attempts to microwave her meal without a microwave, when Kenny ‘loses his room’ and is told he must have left it on the bus, June keeps a straight face and pretends nothing is wrong.

This farcical pressure cooker situation boils along nicely, thanks in part to some superbly delivered comic performances. With each scene no more than a few minutes long, the pace rarely lets up, which barely gives the audience time to compose themselves before they’re lost to laughter again. The Riverside Theatre is packed out, which is great to see, and reverberates to the sound of a very happy audience. 

Big Telly Theatre Company is renowned for delivering brilliantly quirky productions, and having previously sold out four nights at The MAC in Belfast, One Sandwich looks likely to be one of their most successful original productions to date.

One Sandwich Short of a Genius is a very cleverly executed play that wraps a whole lot of family angst up in an absurdly humorous package, a tragi-comedy that mixes the two elements so seamlessly that, even when June sneaks out items of furniture from under her family’s noses to pawn them for money, it’s funny. 

A cameo appearance from comic actor Conor Grimes wraps things up, and we are left to ponder how much time we put into our own family lives. It could always be more. Here Seaton and Atkinson's writing, strong throughout, really hits home.

The second half of the play packs as many punches as the first, but is unsurprisigly a little more poignant, as we watch a fractured family piece itself back together. As June says, the Talbot's are just 'an ordinary family, doing their best, in difficult circumstances'.

One Sandwich Short of a Genius plays at the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre, Newry on April 2 and at the Market Place Theatre, Armagh on April 4.