Comedian and actor Matt Roper got his first Fringe review yesterday. It was a 4-star review from What’s On Stage and began:
“It’s always an especial joy at the fringe when a show you had feared could be a stinker comes up smelling of roses…”
Matt is the son of George Roper, one of The Comedians in the seminal 1970s ITV series which introduced the rest of the UK to successful Northern comics including Bernard Manning, Frank Carson, Stan Boardman and Jim Bowen.
Whether it is correct to call Matt a “comedian” is a moot point. I think he is really an actor with deep comic genes built-into his body.
I saw his Wilfredo – Erecto! show at the Underbelly in Edinburgh last night. I had previously seen it in London, but it has been tweaked and refined (not a word you might normally associate with the character Wilfredo).
The audience reaction last night was extraordinary. There were two points at which he had to actually pause before continuing the show because the giggling was so loudly overwhelming.
There was an entire row composed of Underbelly staff who had come in to see the show (I suspect not for the first time) and they had almost lost all self-control, doubling over in giggles. But the giggling and laughter was widespread throughout the audience.
We are not talking single belly-laughs at specific jokes here. We are talking uncontrollable giggles at the character, the performance and nuances of the script/ad libs. And the whole audience was very definitely laughing WITH not at the character of Wilfredo – a spittle-spewing, slightly seedy Spanish singer and would-be Lothario.
The 4-star What’s On Stage review makes one highly perceptive observation which I would not have thought of but which is spot-on. It says Matt “at his best, shows traces of Steve Coogan in his ability to embody a preposterous alter-ego”.
In a sense, if you see only his Wilfredo character you might underestimate Matt Roper’s full potential.
At the Phoenix, as part of the Free Festival, he plays a Satanic spin doctor in the political satire Lucifer: My Part in the New Labour Project (And How I Invented Coalition Government) – I saw an earlier version of the play at the Canal Cafe in London.
It is only when you see the two totally different characters – and, indeed, meet the real Matt Roper off stage – that you realise how much you are taken in by the characterisation. You are suckered into a willing suspension of disbelief almost without realising it. They are all clearly created characters not 100% realistic (just as Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge is not truly realistic but a semi-cartoon character). But audiences are engulfed by the fantasy.
I have not been so impressed by an actor’s range since I saw Robert Carlyle in The Full Monty and then, two days later, in Face. He performed the characters and their body language so utterly differently yet so believably within their own context that… I would not have realised just how good an actor he is if I had not seen them so close together. It was a bit like the shock of listening to Robert Carlyle’s totally convincing Northern England and South London accents in those movies, then hearing him speak in his own very strong Glaswegian accent.
Matt Roper moves, speaks and looks so totally different in his Wilfredo, French and political spin doctor characters that you only realise just how good he is and what his potential is when you see all of them close together.
Charlie Chuck currently sings a song on stage at the Fringe – I’m Not All There: There’s Something Missing.
With Matt Roper, there is even more there than at first meets the eye and I suspect much more to come.
Next year at the Fringe, he should perform a show comprising multiple characters as a showcase for his immense potential. It would be difficult to pull off because of the costume changes but not impossible.
There is a fascinating potential here.