Review: Frog’s Legs – ‘light-hearted façade with a dark core’

Shepherd-Cross' new play treads a fine line between offensiveness and good taste - is it all the better for it?

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A drawing of a frog sitting on a tree stump with a glass of beer in his hand.
Artist: Phoebe Manley

As the great Oscar Wilde once said: “My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s”.  This nosey sentiment pretty much sums up Frog’s Legs, in which drink buddies, Martin and Duncan, take it upon themselves to ruin the life of the local pub owner, Franc. All because they suspect his wife is French. Thrice they try, thrice they fail. Their only ‘success’ is in enabling him to live lavishly in the Ritz for the rest of his life.

“It is quite unlike anything else you’ve seen in Oxford”, says Hugh Shepherd-Cross (Teddy Hall), the writer and director of the play, who aimed to “tread the fine line between offensiveness and good taste”. Offensiveness there is no shortage of: the eyebrow raising amount of ‘cocaine’ (substituted with icing sugar) snorted on stage is certainly not for the faint-hearted. As for good taste, well, the fact that tickets were sold out a week in advance is perhaps the best evidence of its good artistic sensibilities.

With his glassy grin and lovable mannerisms, Sam Scruton (St John’s) proves to be a real comic presence on stage. His portrayal of Martin strikes the right balance of chumminess and idiocy, making even the absurdities of his circumstances believable for, and relatable to, the audience. While we know that his swift demise will come in the form of a wood chipper at the hands of an angry loan shark, the character himself never achieves that anagnorisis. He lives out his life with a simple joie de vivre, and who is to say that it isn’t a noble life to lead?

Rory Wilson (New College) was equally fine as Duncan, Martin’s partner in crime. Mercurial, lurid and surprisingly erudite regarding Oscar Wilde’s sayings, he remains by Martin’s side no matter how dire their situation is. A particularly moving scene finds the duo penniless and homeless on the street: cuddling together for warmth, Duncan still jests at Martin as usual only, unbeknownst to him, it is in fact their final moments together. This, in my humble opinion, is what true friendship looks like: not to part with gaudy praises in times of glory, but to remain true to each other till the end.

Franc, portrayed by Nathan Brown (Teddy Hall), the hapless pub owner, also impresses in his unique way. With astonishing gullibility, he manages to fund his cocaine habit, receive a life-long membership at the Ritz, win a major cooking competition, and buy Blenheim Palace! His innocence conveys a certain adorable quality, such that he almost resembles a walking teddy bear on stage. Furthermore, the rendition of his original music added a lyrical touch to an otherwise very cleverly written play.

There are only a few gripes with the play, which can be mentioned briefly: looking past its light-hearted façade, the core narrative occasionally ventures into territory perhaps too dark and sinister. Not only does Franc’s wife suffer a horrible death by lorry, but the all-male cast are also alcoholic and drug-stricken does the production glorify a certain public school type bravado in young men? Or, perhaps, the political should have no place in the theatrical: in this age of heated debate and divisive opinions, a jovial yet dark play like this may be becoming something of a rarity.

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