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Ethical People
Etcetera Theatre
5th August 2016

★★★☆☆

Jack Waldouck, Ben Lydon, Phoebe Campbell and Rupert Cox as Ben, Micky, Martha and the pianist

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

All's fair in love and war, but what about on the casting couch? Ethical People follows Jake (Jack Waldouck) and Micky (Ben Lydon) as they compete for a role which is set to be career-defining - or at the very least, bank balance-defining. Jake is a former model turned actor, and Micky is an average Geordie bricklayer hoping to have a crack at film. The world of performing arts is as we all know, a very small one, and the two rivals go on to cross paths with a number of the same people. As the newcomer to showbiz, Micky's decisions are particularly insightful into writer, director and composer Jude Alderson's opinions on the industry.

The script starts out as a relatively straight piece of drama, with separate subplots which cleverly intertwine, then suddenly it seems to take quite a nonsensical turn and the ending is very abrupt and strange. In some ways this reveals a weakness in the writing, however crucially, the audience enjoy this unexpected twist of art rather surreally imitating life. Perhaps it's the shock from the sudden shift in tone or the recognition from how quickly next big scriptwriter Maria (Molly Moody) seems to sell out, but this twist does create plenty of humour and I found myself laughing just as hard as everyone else in the theatre. If it ain't broke...

The usual clichés you would expect from a critique of showbiz are all there. Aspiring actress Livvy (Yasmine Holness-Dove) is full of bravado and fire and wants to be taken seriously for her craft, yet demonstrates a willingness to spend time with sleazy agent Pedro (Danny Parsons). Jake's marriage to talented pianist Martha (Phoebe Campbell) starts to crumble due to his narcissism, with the character self-obsessed to the point of ignoring everything around him. Whilst it may an acting stereotype, equally, it allows us to see a more human side of his personality. As brief as the glimpse into his sincere regret is, it's very moving.

There's also some great comedy, especially in Micky's lines, as he tries to rationalise this new life to his previous experiences. Lydon's delivery is very natural and assured, with Alderson taking care to establish his character at the start of his journey, so we can see all changes clearly. Waldouck and Moody in particular provide good counterpoints, bringing out the humour, of which there's plenty.

Alderson adds interest by punctuating the action with jazzy numbers with Debra Bishop on vocals and Rupert Cox on piano. The lyrics are sometimes unclear and we do miss what we expect is a witty commentary on what we've just seen or are about to see, however the moody tone of Bishop's voice and the soft melodies always create a wonderful sultriness. This deliberately contrasts with the "ethical" title - after all, doing the right thing is rarely glamorous. Other finishing touches include Luke Wilson's strong choreography at the start of the play as he manipulates the ensemble into creating a sense of urgency and confusion.

Ethical People is a play with music that doesn't tell us anything we don't already know about the dark side of showbiz, however despite its inevitability, it's a lot of fun. It's guaranteed to entertain, and as ethical people, surely we wouldn't lie to you?

Ethical People opened on 4th August and runs until 7th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, then from 9th to 10th August at The Cockpit as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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