fri 18/09/2020

Stop! The Play, Trafalgar Studios | reviews, news & interviews

Stop! The Play, Trafalgar Studios

Stop! The Play, Trafalgar Studios

New meta-theatrical comedy is a fun but lightweight industry romp

Suffering for one's art: actors Hugh (Adam Riches) and Gemma (Hatty Preston) rehearse, watched by stage manager Chrissie (Charlie Cameron)Matt Humphrey

The play’s the thing, once again, in the latest backstage comedy, an affable if limited dig at luvvie pretensions. Noises Off still reigns supreme in this genre, with successors unable to match the bravura precision of Michael Frayn’s masterful multitasking farce, though the triumph of The Play That Goes Wrong proves there is an appetite for further displays of theatrical chaos.

The play’s the thing, once again, in the latest backstage comedy, an affable if limited dig at luvvie pretensions. Noises Off still reigns supreme in this genre, with successors unable to match the bravura precision of Michael Frayn’s masterful multitasking farce, though the triumph of The Play That Goes Wrong proves there is an appetite for further displays of theatrical chaos.

David Spicer offers slight variation on the form with an ever-evolving play-within-a-play. What begins as domestic drama centred on a tortured artist becomes, over multiple rewrites, a muddled attempt at taboo protest play called Banksy Ain’t Gay. The playwright never appears, but the ominous clacking of his keyboard between scenes signals another draft, upping the stress levels for inexperienced director Evelyn (Ben Starr), put-upon stage manager Chrissie (Charlie Cameron), and the increasingly mutinous cast: vain leading man Hugh (Adam Riches), his bitter ex Linda (Hannah Stokely), eager ingénue Gemma (Hatty Preston), befuddled veteran Walter (James Woolley, pictured below with Preston), and bewildered newcomer Kryston (Tosin Cole).

Stop! The Play, Trafalgar StudiosThe disasters that befall them range from the predictable – dropped lighting cues, problematic props – to the enjoyably ludicrous – an escaped monkey wreaking havoc. Running gags are well deployed, particularly pronunciation debates (narcissistic Hugh prefers “char-ACTOR”) and the phantom writer’s use of tortured similes in gloriously overwrought stage directions. Hugh is instructed to descend a spiral staircase “like a swan landing on his favourite mill pond”; Gemma to spasm “like a gazelle on a Wurlitzer”. Both Riches and Preston prove equal to the task.

The zany energy of the doomed rehearsal process dips during the overlong depiction of the play’s opening night, which drifts without clear stakes. Where, exactly, is it being performed, and what does failure mean to the company? Spicer gleefully lampoons self-absorbed theatre that agonises over the meaning of art and wisdom of creative geniuses, but his similarly inward-looking piece needs either increased emotional engagement or a more distinct message to rise above parodic sketch.

John Schwab, former Reduced Shakespeare Company stalwart, draws strong comic performances from his cast, though the cross talk needs tightening and interpersonal relationships lack heft. Starr unravels wonderfully, batting away protestations with an increasingly desperate “It’s in the script!”, Woolley offers surreal interjections as he wanders down memory lane, Riches embodies wounded ego, and Cole expertly delivers the cringe-worthy “ethnic” lines assigned to his stereotypical rapper. Preston’s Gemma is the stand-out, enthusiasm for unpredictable new writing turning to fiery determination when faced with alarming additions and uncooperative co-stars.

Coming from the world of stand-up, Spicer supplies plenty of zingers, but is relentless in pursuit of constant mirth. The manic first act offers no respite, dodging around plot holes (why does the writer have godlike power? Why is Chrissie the only crew member?), and the second is cheapened by scattergun punchlines. Not an evening of great profundity, nor the focused riposte some self-conscious fringe drama deserves, but still a pleasurable industry romp.

Coming from the world of stand-up, Spicer supplies plenty of zingers, but is relentless in pursuit of constant mirth

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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