sun 22/09/2019

Jezebel, Soho Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Jezebel, Soho Theatre

Jezebel, Soho Theatre

Irish sex comedy plays it safe with cosy sitcom laughs

Plus one: kooky Jezebel (Valerie O'Connor) livens up a dwindling romance

If comedy is tragedy plus time, either too much has elapsed since the fictional events of Jezebel, or not quite enough. Newcomer Mark Cantan's uneven screwball comedy pitting a methodical couple against a scatter-brained opposite with wacky misunderstandings aplenty, lacks the emotional heft to be more than genially inconsequential. And it's too enamoured of the old-fashioned TV sitcoms it references to subvert rather than merely replicate their well-worn tropes. Add a classic living-room set, direct address to camera - sorry, audience - and audible pauses for laugh track, and you get something of a medium mismatch.

The disconnect is exacerbated further by the show's length, stretching a half-hour sketch into an 80-minute play. Lynne Parker’s gently meandering production lacks the injection of pace required for a farcical crescendo, as well as the stakes to make us invested in the outcome. There’s plenty of potential for crisis in this tale of a sexually adventurous threesome with unexpected consequences, yet instead of meaty conflict, Jezebel serves up a series of circumventing comic contrivances. It’s a perfectly sensible tactic for the sitcom writer who must return to the status quo for next week’s instalment, rather more peculiar for the playwright creating a one-off piece. Three’s company, and most amiable company at that, but after a prolonged build-up, we are due a more satisfying climax.

Jezebel, Soho TheatreA game cast (right) does well to add value with effective conjuring of a world beyond their visible surroundings. The courtship scenes between proactive, problem-solving Robin (Margaret McAuliffe) and eager geek Alan (Peter Daly) offer a pleasing combination of precise interaction from the cohesive pair and Valerie O’Connor's wry commentary. Even better is the reverse, with O’Connor showing impressive range as downtrodden artist Jezebel – in contrast to her powerful seductress namesake. She suffers a series of humiliations, including being dumped by a recently incarcerated drug dealer. Her awkward, one-sided flirtation with a colourful loser is excruciatingly funny, and just empathetic enough to be subtly heartbreaking.

More could be made of the competing world views, with glimpses of Jezebel’s hippy-dippy creative life and Alan’s fascination with statistical analysis; the latter offers an interesting take on the randomness of human connection, while the former provides the sharpest humour in the form of unseen character Julia, Jezebel’s monstrous avant-garde artist frenemy. There's also a promising undercurrent of yearning left undeveloped, with the absorbing complexity of building successful relationships swapped for a hasty conclusion that was radical in Coward’s 1932 Design for Living, but rather tame now.

Jezebel is a sweetly inoffensive, dateless play – note the strange absence of technology, surely a significant factor in contemporary sexual exploration – and will doubtless charm fans of lightweight comedy (it’s essentially Friends with benefits). But for those seeking a dramatic experience that rocks their world, this quick cuddle and peck on the cheek may disappoint.

  • Jezebel is at Soho Theatre until 31 August
After a prolonged build-up, we are due a more satisfying climax

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.