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10 July 13 - 17 August 13

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 By Alexandr Ostrovsky, adapted by Rodney Ackland
A Royal Exchange Theatre Production in association with Told by an Idiot

Charming, ambitious, smooth-talking liar Gloumov is determined to climb to the top – and he doesn’t care how he does it, or who he steps on to get there.

Following the overwhelming success of YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (Royal Exchange, Christmas 2011), the Royal Exchange Theatre and the internationally acclaimed Told by an Idiot once again join forces to give their unique take on TOO CLEVER BY HALF, the prolific Russian playwright’s hilarious satire about the problem of honesty in a lying hypocritical world.

Backstabbing, greed, and some wonderfully odd characters combine with the Idiot’s anarchic energy to create a comedy that is seriously funny, and wildly physical.  Made especially for the amazing Royal Exchange theatre space, this promises to be truly spectacular, and the perfect summer show for all the family.

‘Their work is never less than sublime.’ The Independent on Told by an Idiot 

‘Told by an Idiot are the most exciting, enthralling and energising presence in British Theatre.’ Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate


Have Your Say

Production Photos Slideshow
Production Photos Slideshow

Interview with Director Paul Hunter
Interview with Director Paul Hunter
As rehearsals move from 1st to 4th gear, we caught up with director Paul Hunter to find out how he's turning Ostrovsky's masterpiece into a 1960s music and madness-filled comedy - full of flying actors, magic sofas, surreal slapstick and falling over!


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Rehearsal Blog by Actress Debbie Korley
Rehearsal Blog by Actress Debbie Korley
When you've been cast to perform in one of our co-productions with the anarchic Told by an Idiot, rehearsals will be anything but dull. 

So to give you an insight into exactly what goes on behind the rehearsal room door (and inside the actors heads), we caught up with cast member
Debbie Morley who's playing the role of Mashenka and Golutvin.

Week 1

Wow what a week!! First day of rehearsals started at 12.30 which I think is a first for me I could feel that I was quite nervous but very quickly all the company greeted each other and then we were introduced to the Manchester Royal Exchange, very exciting. After meeting everyone - Paul our director gave a speech which was funny and relaxed any tension that may have been in the air quickly disappeared. Laura our designer went through her vision of the stage, thoughts and costume and the era of our version of the play! After this we went into our rehearsal room and played and explored physicality which could be used in the piece. The rest of the week consisted of visiting the scenes in wide brush strokes. Paul loves us to offer ideas and there is SO much laughter in the room pretty much all the time. Even when moments have gone wrong we've been able to use those too. The company are really bonding and looking after each other. A real treat!!

Week 2

We've actually had a look at chunks of the play, can't believe how much we've got on its feet. You can really see how it's coming together. One of the joys of our rehearsal room is Paul has encouraged a kind of open door policy which means we can pop in to watch some scenes if we wish, which can be helpful with your owns characters and scenes.  There have been lots of pushing boundaries in some moments to see what we can squeeze out of them.  These moments could pass by in normal day to day life but not in this show, it's amazing what one look, or one gesture (done in a certain way of course) can ignite! He he heeee. Some sequences have been devised, very satisfying for so much input to be allowed in the piece. I think this baby will grow big then have to be trimmed to size.

Week 3

Lots of us tend to go home to reunite with loved ones and recharge batteries on the weekends! With this type of work which is physical and 'not psychological' as Paul would say, a different kind of concentration is needed so looking after oneself is important.  This week we are working on the stage in the module which is new to most members of the acting team. It's a gift to try things out there and see if they have the same impact as they did in the rehearsal room. There have been challenges too because its quite a technical show but everyone is making every effort to make things work. Sequences, dialogue and atmospheres for certain scenes have been changed or honed to get the best out of the piece. One of the most  brilliant things is we are STILL laughing at bits we found funny when we first saw the section of the piece or performed it. We actually did a stagger through in the rehearsal room on Tuesday. Again more surprises on the way. The actors are still trying new things and it was great seeing the play in its entirety. The broad brush strokes from week one are now turning into the intricacy and detail of the finer artwork. The hard work always has a huge pay off.  Now the weekend is here again many people are resting up prior to our last rehearsal week. We're in good shape ... Fingers X'd.

Week 4

This has been a very exciting week!! We had an open onstage rehearsal where a small number of audience members came and joined us.  We continued to explore and rehearse parts of the play with the technical team.  Some of the technical elements could not be done in the rehearsal room as some props and costumes have only just been completed.  Sections of the set pieces involve automation so safety and timings had to be looked at closely.  The audience seemed to enjoy the mechanics of the stage and importantly for the actors, they responded well to the part of the story we focused on which is always a relief.  The audience was a great indicator for us because the first preview is next week, so it was reassuring to feel like we’re on the right track.  Talking about tracks, we are enjoying the aural atmosphere that our sound designer Adrienne is developing.  It’s a strong element of the show and so satisfying to listen to.

As we are working on The Birthday Party set - it has meant that we have had a visit to the workshop so that we can try out our furniture.  This gave us an overall idea of our set, dimensions and props.  Our technical rehearsal is quickly approaching so this gave us an opportunity to iron out any major issues.  For instance having to position certain bits of furniture the right way to fit through doors etc.  We spent a couple of hours working on something that feels like we’re going in circles.  It’s about getting it in the right place at the right time for the next scene - a bit like an equation! So I’ll leave you with this πr² = O

If you come see the show you’ll understand...!

Week 5

Early afternoon on Monday we started our technical rehearsal. This involved trying out our costumes, plotting the lighting for the show, working out entrances and exits, adding the sound track/sound effects and rehearsing scene changes. Some of the scene changes are timed so we had to repeat these quite a few times to get them correct and slick! We all had a glow because repeatedly moving furniture and concentrating hard on keeping everyone safe under the lights can be sweaty work sometimes.

When it came to Wednesday morning we had managed to tech the whole show. After that we did our dress rehearsal which I have to say had a couple of hairy moments but we got through it in tact. We then had a notes session where a few bits had to be adjusted and changed and personally I was worried about one of my quick changes but I needn't have, it was alright on the night. We were extremely nervous but the audience were so kind and warm and it got us through. 

We were geared up on Thursday and super concentrated because many of us were quite exhausted. Nerves still bubbled but there was much more of a relaxed atmosphere which was good for the play. We've continued rehearsing during the days to tighten things up. We are just preparing for preview 3! Can't believe how quickly the rehearsals went. We are looking forward to getting the show at the stage where technical things are less of a worry. It's press night next Monday, there's a nice buzz. All very exciting!!


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A lot of people have been commenting on the music in the show, even asking for the full set list, so using Spotify we've put together a list of some of tracks used within TOO CLEVER BY HALF.

The full set list is:

GIMME SHELTER – Rolling Stones

CARMINA BURANA – Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg & Kurt

FIRE – Crazy World of Arthur Brown

SHAKE – Small Faces



THE LOOK OF LOVE – Dusty Springfield

ALBATROSS – Fleetwood Mac

IT’S MY PARTY – Lesley Gore

WALKAWAY – Matt Munro

POLTERGEIST – Tristram Cary & James Bernard

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR – J.C. Studio Cast and Murray Head

THE PARTY’S OVER – Anthony Newley



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Rehearsal Blog by Actor Dharmesh Patel
Rehearsal Blog by Actor Dharmesh Patel
When you've been cast to perform in one of our co-productions with the anarchic Told by an Idiot, rehearsals will be anything but dull.

So to give you an insight into exactly what goes on behind the rehearsal room door (and inside the actors heads), we caught up with cast member
Dharmesh Patel who's playing the role of Yegor Vassilitch and Kourchaey.


"If it's bad, make it worse"... These are the words of our director and music to our ears as a company. In essence the last three weeks of rehearsals have been filled with fun, laughter, anarchy and exploration.... And of course hard work. The company have worked together to create a production that is filled with vivid characters, slick conversations and magical montages that will heighten the audiences experience of our version of ostrovsky's "too clever by half". It is a production that has been influenced by Sergei Eisenstein, a pioneer, who was known as the father of montage. He drew on popular theatre techniques from farce and the commedia dell'arte in his staging; he wrote:

"A gesture turns into gymnastics, rage is expressed through a somersault, exaltation through salto-mortal (a dangerous and daring jump with possibly lethal outcome), lyricism by a run along a tightrope. The grotesque of this style, permitted leaps from one type of expression to another, as well as unexpected intertwinings of the two expressions".

So it may be TOO CLEVER BY HALF, but it seems this production is doing nothing by half!


"Our director shared some advice with a group of budding actors who attended our first open rehearsal yesterday [2 July]..."it is not enough to want to be an actor, you need to be an actor". Those that have a love in life will absolutely understand this... Be it a hobby, a profession even a loved one. It is this need we have as professionals that makes us want to share the work we do, show the workings of our rehearsals, like a magician revealing his trick. The audience of around 200 people was made up of both young and old, all wanting to see what we do in the rehearsal room which is often locked away to the outside world. It is the rehearsal room where most of the hard work takes place and often the place where most the fun is had as an ensemble... I imagine it was fun for the audience to watch but in truth it was more exciting for us to share the inner workings of what we truly love to do in life... Play and share x"

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Anarchy And Play - Paul Hunter Interview
Anarchy And Play - Paul Hunter Interview
Paul Hunter talks about working with teenagers and toddlers

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Resource Extra
Resource Extra
- Why this play?
- Creating the world of the play
- Rehearsal diary with ‘Idiot’ Debbie Korley who plays Mashenka and Golutvin

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Rehearsal Photos Slideshow
Rehearsal Photos Slideshow

Director Paul Hunter has an open door policy with rehearsals so here are some snapshots into the madness, mayhem and physicality that you can expect to see when the productions open on the Exchange stage on 10 July.

Created with flickr slideshow.

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Please hover over for more info:
Richard BraineHayley CarmichaelPenelope DimondDyfan DwyforCalum FinlayLisa  HammondNick HaversonDebbie KorleyNitin KundraCarla MendonçaDharmesh Patel
Written by Alexandr Ostrovsky
Adapted by Rodney Ackland
Directed by Paul Hunter
Designed by Laura Hopkins
Lighting Designer Philip Gladwell
Sound Designer Adrienne Quartly


The Theatre

Via Box Office on 0161 833 9833 
or online

£10 - £35 (click here for more details)

Click here for full details

2 hours and 40 minutes, which includes 1 interval of 20 minutes

Wednesday 17 July, 11.00am
This tour is BSL Interpreted

Thursday 1 August

Saturday 10 August, 3.30pm

Tuesday 13 August, 7.30pm

Thursday 8 August, 7.30pm

Click here for more information about our accessible performances

Director Paul Hunter

Thursday 1 August, 6.00pm
More Information
Wednesday 17 July, 10.00am - 12 noon
Pre-show talk and demonstration for schools, community groups and individuals. More Information

Wednesdays 24 & 31 July OR 7 & 14 August, 11.00am - 1.00pm

A pair of discussion, playreading and talk-based sessions to accompany Alexandr Ostrovsky’s TOO CLEVER BY HALF, giving insights into the play, its themes, its writer and the historical and cultural context in which it was written. 

Cost: £12 for the 2 sessions
Suitable for aged 18+
Book via Box Office on 0161 833 9833
More Information