Mr Whatnot: World Premiere Reviews

This page contains a selection of reviews from the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's Mr Whatnot Loves at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, in November 1963. All reviews are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author.

Mr Whatnot (by Benedict Nightingale)
An unusual, and unusually effective piece of theatrical experimentation was presented at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, last night. On the face of it,
Mr Whatnot is simply a series of anecdotes emerging from the clash of a little piano tuner and a blimpishly upper-class family, who mistakenly receive him as a house guest.
The novelty is all in the presentation. The author, Alan Ayckburn [sic], plainly derives much from the silent screen comedy. The central Tatiesque character never speaks: in the tradition of Chaplin and Keaton, he wanders into grotesque and bizarre events. He is bewildered, perhaps a little sad, but always ready to make the best of things and always anxious to please. Traditional scenes are mimed: sleepless guests mistake each other for ghosts; a wind plays havoc at a tea party; there is even the car chase. We miss only the telling close-up.
Great use is made of what can only be described as a sound track. The actors gambol and contort at invisible dogs, cows, lawn mowers, rain. The stereophonic sound effects and the miming of playing pianos, opening antique doors, and so on, skilfully coincide.
Everything occurs "in the round" - a form of presentation that would seem vital for an experiment of this kind. A tennis match can be mimed or an afternoon tea in the garden can suddenly disintegrate into a 1918 battlefield, with the full three dimensional effect. The author develops his situation inventively and rarely allows an incident to fray from overuse. The result is often extremely funny and deserves a much wider audience than it will find in Stoke.
Of course, the experiment is used here for the purpose of goonery. Gentle, intelligent goonery - goonery with overtones of social comment - but goonery all the same. One wonders if this kind of combination of silent acting and varied external noises could not be developed to some more serious purpose. It is a new retreat from the overpowering dictates of dialogue, from the assumption that only through conversation can feelings on the stage be expressed - just somewhat further than, say,
Oh What a Lovely War.
The actors take advantage of having little to do with their mouths. They use their faces marvellously. Especially the little anti-hero played by Peter King with a timid smile and a bewildered expression that can turn to ecstasy as he capers in the clutches of love or strong drink.
(The Guardian, 13 November 1963)

A Comedy Of Action
Unless you have actually seen a performance by the talented and youthful cast at the Victoria, Hartshill, Stoke, you might find it difficult to visualise the actions of a car chase, a tennis match. a garden féte and a battlefield being portrayed in a space about the same size as a boxing ring. Yet the players manage to create all those things at their performance of Alan Aykbourne's [sic] latest comedy Mr Whatnot.
Mr Aykbourne [sic] makes up for the lack of scenery and props in this theatre-in-the-round by developing a new type of comedy and farce which relies almost entirely on action rather than dialogue. Basically
Mr Whatnot concerns the adventures of a young piano tuner who is called to tune the grand at a large stately home and falls in love with the daughter.
Needless to say, there is no piano, and Peter King, as the tuner, gives an amusing portrayal of the invisible keyboard - and leaves the rest to the sound effects department.
Mr. Aykbourne’s [sic] humour, which sometimes reminds one of the slap-stick era. is cleverly devised. As an actor himself he knows how the performers can make the best use of a certain incident; he knows from experience how they feel when they are expected to perform in a certain way.
(The Stage, 14 November 1963)

Laughter Galore In Life Of Mr Whatnot
What does not happen to Mr, Whatnot just isn’t true, and what does is barely credible, for Mr Whatnot, a piano tuner by trade, is one of those fortunate characters who does nothing - except be born when his planet is in the ascendant.
Mr Whatnot is the new play by Alan Ayckbourn which had its first night last night at the Victoria Theatre, Hartshill, and it does not take life seriously.
Mr Whatnot never says a word the length of the play, but Peter King needs no words to express his feelings and wants - which are very strong in the direction of Amanda, daughter of Lord and Lady Slingsby-Craddock.
Cecil, Amanda’s fiancé, played with “cultured” idiocy by Bernard Gallagher; is a very small obstacle between Mr Whatnot and his object.
The play is full of invention and makes use of an endless stream of comic tricks while still retaining an individuality of its own, in spite of the many references it sparks off in the mind.
The play does not relapse and this owes itself not only to the buoyancy of Peter King in the name-part. but to the fervent playing of every member of the company. If the programme did not state that only seven people appeared in the theatre last night, it would be hard to believe.
Alan Ayckbourn, who directed as well as wrote it, has an exquisite taste for sound effects. I shall not forget the “squeak” animal that lodged itself in Mr Whatnot’s foot just at the crucial moment when he set off in the quiet night hours for the willing Amanda’s chamber, nor the scene that followed with relays of night-shirted figures carefully treading the corridors by the light of matches.
In spite of the air of fantasy, the play is earthy enough for the audience to associate themselves with Mr Whatnot, who will be pursuing his destiny at the Victoria Theatre for the next three weeks..
(Evening Sentinel, 11 November 1963)

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.