The Dutchy of Grand Fenwick is a country that’s three miles wide and five miles long, with a population of about 6,000, and its own national bird.
Clearly not the kind of place you’d expect to start a war, especially not one against the United States. But in The Mouse that Roared’s opening act, Grand Fenwick does exactly that.
Presented by Carleton University’s Sock ‘n’ Buskin Theatre Company, The Mouse that Roared opens with Grand Fenwick’s leaders watching their economy crumble around them. Tourists can’t be coaxed through their forest, and the tiny nation’s chief export, Pinot Grand Fenwick wine, has been replaced globally by a watered-down knockoff from California. Desperate for a solution, Grand Fenwick’s sash wearing, Machiavelli reading leader, the Duchess Gloriana the Twelfth, comes up with a brilliant plan. Grand Fenwick will declare war on the Unites States of America, and then lose miserably. Having defeated Grand Fenwick, the USA will then have to “rehabilitate” the nation as it did with Germany and Japan after the Second World War, thus saving Fenwick from bankruptcy.
If this plan made you smile, then its execution will leave you in stitches.
The Mouse that Roared is hilarious from start to finish. Director Kevin Nimmock has created a world where a general uses his children as bodyguards, bowmen invade New York in tights, and soldiers don’t just raise the flag of truce, they “whip it out and wave it around.”
Nimmock says he encouraged his performers to improvise, and some of the play’s most side-splitting moments happened when the actors strayed away from the script. The hardest job in the whole play has to be sharing the stage with the US Secretary of State, played by Tim Barretto-Burns, whose southern drawl and off-the-cuff rants left the audience gasping and his costars struggling to keep a straight face.
Other notable performances come from Oliver Sachgau, who plays the relentlessly endearing leader of the Grand Fenwick army, and Keith Hickey, appearing as one of the nation’s buffoonish politicians. The woman who holds everything together is Lauren Stiers, who is the perfect fit for Duchess Gloriana’s red sash and tiara. Surrounded by caricatures and fools, Gloriana faces some real-life problems. She’s a 22-year-old with the weight of a country on her back, albeit a small country. And although the Duchess isn’t immune to the naivety and silliness that seems to run in Grand Fenwick’s water, she does take her job seriously. Stiers executes this role with the right amount of vulnerability, and she often seemed just as alarmed by her co-stars antics as the audience does. While I wasn’t quite emotionally invested in her story, rooting for Gloriana gave me a reason to follow the plot, when otherwise it would have been easy to see the play as a series of disjointed, but hilarious, events.
Based on a 1955 novel of the same name, The Mouse that Roared was written for the stage in 1963 by American playwright Christopher Sergel. Still holding onto its cold war themes, Sock ‘n’ Buskin’s Mouse comes together like a combination of Cat’s Cradle and Robin Hood Men in Tights.
The play’s greatest limitation was the venue. The largest room in Carleton’s art gallery only allows for a few dozen seats and even though the show nearly sold out on its opening night, the audience seemed only slightly larger than the cast.
These size restraints never affected the performance though. The set usually consisted of a few props with a forest, lab, or throne room projected onto backdrop. This minimalist approach suited The Mouse that Roared perfectly. A busier set would have just distracted from what the actors were saying.
The Mouse that Roared is a gleeful cold-war David and Goliath story with plenty of swearing, penis jokes, and more men in dresses than you can count on one hand. It’s not high culture, but trust me, you’ll laugh.
The Mouse That Roared runs nightly at 7pm at the Carleton University Art Gallery on the 26th, 28th and 29th. On the 27th, the performance will be held in room 272 Residence Commons. Tickets are $10, $8 for students. For more information, click here.