views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Playground: Deception
The Horse and Stables
22nd September 2014

★★★★☆

Despite the star rating, I absolutely hated this evening of six short plays themed around deception. They were wholly unpleasant and the pointless scripts deserve to be concreted up and dumped in the Thames so no one has the misfortune of performing them again! Not really. Do you see what I (predictably and tediously) did there? Happily, these lot are a bit more adept at the old deception game than I, and provided a relatively consistent evening of laughs - a rare treat when you're dealing with a whole bunch of shorts.

Brandon M Crose's Going Viral saw a Mother (Amy Quick) and Father (Stephen Maher) reveal to their Child (Ava Pickett) that she's been a YouTube star since birth. It's probably the most traditional of all six pieces and a wise choice of opener given its accessibility, with Simon Paris equally playing it straight as director. We can all relate to embarrassing parents and having them create a whole online life for their kid is a situation that may very well be happening right now. As we were filing in, Quick and Maher were already bickering over how to hang their child's Happy Birthday banner, a move which was bafflingly undercut by a reminder to turn off phones. Either begin with a curtain up or don't. But that was a minor glitch in an otherwise solid piece even if Pickett, as good as she was, took her incredulous smiling a bit too far.

The weakest play of the night came second, in Dwayne Yancey's Elephants Die Standing Up, in which two circus workers - Fliss (Jess Barrett) and Bee (Philippa James) decide to sell a deceased pachyderm. Its main failing is that it feels like it should be a two or three minute French and Saunders skit, rather than pushing ten, as it does. There are some good lines despite it being overwritten but director Juno Gurung has let everything feel a bit floppy and loose. Such a concept demands a boisterous, anarchic sensibility yet Barrett and James have presumably been told to act slower, more muted and dumber rather than sillier. It's by no means a failure however when taken in context its problems show. It needs to be more The Dead Elephant Sketch and less them flogging a dead elephant.

Spoofing Shakespeare can be a tricky business and, for my money, the only people to come close to the Bard are The Reduced Shakespeare Company and Tom Stoppard. Now I can add Rex McGregor to that list for Grow Up Juliet, in which "Oh happy dagger" has a retractable blade and from then on, much like the evening as a whole, things just get weird. I'm not going to spoil what happens to Juliet (Harriet Layhe) at the hands of Friar Laurence/Mercutio/Rosaline (Sarah Anson). McGregor's script - in rhyming couplets and probably iambic pentameter but I was too busy laughing to check - is chock-full of quality running gags (hard to do in ten minutes), terrible but brilliant puns ("A ruse by any other name...") and it's all handled with a panto-cum-Jeremy Kyle flair by director Matthew Radway.

After a vaguely baffling 15-minute interval (seriously, the whole thing runs to just over an hour) Fashion Specifics by John Morogiello proved deception doesn't necessarily have to be with words, it can also be the absence of words. To hammer this point home, other than the odd exclamation, the script only uses incomplete sentences, such as "It doesn't...?" "No." "It's not too...?". You know what I mean. It's a fantastic concept on which to hang the threadbare plot of a Woman (Tori Louis) trying on jackets with the help of a particularly sniffy store Manager (Tiago Luzio). The key here was getting the casting and direction spot on, as the wit came from the lack of script. Emily Bush does a fantastic job of delivering a perfect tone, with Louis' open-faced Woman putting me in mind of Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont, a comedy grande dame. Luzio too has the required snark and passive-aggression, every flounce, raised eyebrow and effete action speaking volumes. A bout of almost-corpsing simply added to the infectious mirth.

Mark Harvey Levine's The Rental brought us back to normality - sort of - with another sitcom-style plot when lonely Sonya (Sally Reichardt) gets a birthday gift from a pal in the form of rented perfect boyfriend Harold (Guy Remy). In essence, this should be pretty darn depressing yet it's buoyed by not only Paul Hoskins' direction - always keeping one eye on the farce - but also our two leads. I suppose the fact they're so darn likeable and have a chemistry should make it more unpleasant however it doesn't. He's just a man who's great at his job and we know she'll find true love eventually. Reichardt's histrionics mesh well with Remy's debonair flair and the writer and director both manage to pull off a wee bit of deception against the audience too, teasing how it could have all gone so very right.

Topping everything off was live faux-gameshow Let's Play Deception, and the previous works had garnered so much goodwill from the audience that the Host (Steven Mortimer as a sort of fantastically hideous Ricky Gervais, Heston Blumenthal and Bernard Manning lovechild) and assistant didn't need to do much to get us on-side. Here, Lou Treleaven's sideways look at the nature of relationships sees Ben (Joe Miller) and his partner Laura (Emma-Jayne John) try to win the perfect life by, essentially, lying to each other. Director Jonathan R Parsonage keeps the tone airy and vacuous but also handles the predictably bleak outcome well. Even if it's a bit too overstated by our host. My advice - cut the penultimate line where it's all explained so the slower children can understand. Fittingly, to bookend the show, Miller was a little too smiley as his world crumbled around him - and at one point called Kimmy "Kitty" but again, it was nothing hugely fatal.

So there you have it, a night of utter boredom which you should ignore. Do anything to avoid it. Wash your hair, have a headache, drive nails into your hands and go to A&E rather than see this tosh. Didn't believe that one either? Damn. I'll leave it to the professionals...

Playground: Deception opened on 22nd September and runs until 24th September 2014 at the Horse and Stables.

Nearest tube station: Lambeth North (Bakerloo)



Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square

West
End

Southbank

London

comedy

theatre

music

performing arts

culture