It is rare indeed to see One Was Nude and One Wore Tails performed in London. It is one of Dario Fo’s one act farces, first performed in Italy in 1962. Far from Fo’s Milan, the Theatre of Heaven and Hell, which is currently reviving the play, ‘was created in a living room in Southend on Sea’ and their mission is to bring absurdist theatre to London’s fringe.
As we walk in to take our seats, there is an accordion player playing without much accomplishment on the set strewn with crumpled balls of newspaper. Five cast members enter dressed as roadsweepers in bright high visibility overalls and give us a comic rendition of a song, complete with bicycle horns for percussion. It feels like a vaudeville show from past days; Benny Hill springs to mind. Two of the roadsweepers return to the stage, frustratingly sweeping things around rather than sweeping anything away. One of them (Nicholas Bright) is a bit of a simpleton and the other one (Brian Eastty) gives him a lesson in philosophy and life, which ends up with our first roadsweeper (let’s call him Roadsweeper 1) believing that he is God.
From this deep discussion we end up in the middle of a farce based around Roadsweeper 1’s initial need, to find his bin, and his second need, to find some clothes for the naked man who he finds in his bin.
This main section of the farce is by far the funniest and most successful. Nicholas Bright goes from being a lovable Frank Spencer-esque fool to an endearing character who is not as foolish as he looks. This is an important theme for Fo, which is also reiterated when Roadsweeper 1 swaps clothes with a flower seller who is passing by on a bicycle and who is wearing a dinner suit. It is in fact the man inside the bin who is the ambassador, and he is hiding in there naked having run away from a dalliance with a married woman. People are not always what they seem by their appearance. This play brings out such themes with laughter and satire.
The highlight of the entire piece is the naked ambassador in the bin. Played by Darren Ruston, the Naked Man does some brilliant acting from within that bright yellow bin. There are some great visual gags, some knockabout humour, japes with the bike horn, and general slapstick involving the lid of the bin. Ruston delivers his lines beautifully, whilst being mostly imprisoned within the bin, his bald head (and comedy moustache) the only things visible. The direction by Michael Ward gets this really right. Bright’s performance also works really well with Ruston’s; as Roadsweeper 1 puts on the dinner suit and tails and becomes a make-believe Count he is comically exuberant. The Woman (Elena Clements) is a slight role which helps the action to move along, but it is done well. As she sits on the bench next to our hapless Roadsweeper 1 at the end of the play, a hint of romance in the air between these two simple folk, she reflects it was ‘All because I met a naked ambassador’.
Fo is the Nobel prize-winning playwright who died last year, more famous for his longer form plays The Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! It seems like a good time to see his lesser-known work, particularly if it is going to be of this high calibre.
By Hatty Uwanogho