views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Badge of Shame
The Hen and Chickens
1st July 2015

★★☆☆☆

Publicity image for Badge of Shame

Photography provided by Hadleigh Productions

Detective Stuart Hayes (Michael Peluso) and Sergeant David Willis (Ben Altimira) are crooked cops. Officer Julia Nicol (Caroline Zihler) is working undercover to prove this, supported by her boss Inspector Cooper (Robert Nicholas), who has more than just an interest in her work. However, as well as having her eye on the case, Julia has her eye on another man, and can't let her husband Doctor Robert Nicol (Michael Staveley) find out her deception. When Julia is murdered, there are plenty of suspects to choose from. She's dead - in finest noir tradition - whodunnit?

Writer-director Warren Brooking has really taken the time to establish a backstory for each of his characters in Badge of Shame, but the way in which they reveal this history feels shoehorned into the plot. As for the dialogue itself, it's unnatural and full of hackneyed expressions. There's a reference to Wandsworth Prison and most of the characters do sound homegrown, yet they are betrayed by talking about cops, badges and Internal Affairs rather than bobbies, warrant cards and the Professional Standards Department. The terminology and the expected setting just don't tally up. If you're going to set a story in an environment which you're not familiar with, you do need to do more research than watch a few US cop shows.

Strangely, if you were to imagine this production as an on-screen project, it would probably work better. Much of the action is shrouded in darkness and many scenes feel like they were made for a close up and soft focus in black and white. When it comes to Brooking's direction, the screen influence is strikingly apparent. The Godfather trilogy also seems to be an inspirational source with a reference to keeping your friends close and enemies closer, and a theme of familial succession. Without the claustrophobia of close ups and the aid of problem-solving bridging shots, pauses in speeches often feel awkward rather than pregnant.

References to stashing money abroad are also lifted from the big screen, with Brooking either unaware of or deliberately ignoring changes to the international exchange of banking information. Swiss accounts are not as anonymous as they once were, despite Bond's fondness for them. We know Brooking has chosen to set the story in the current day due to a mention of a character's age and date of birth. In today's climate, it might be more relevant to see funds converted into Bitcoin, which can arguably be harder to trace.

Altimira certainly looks the part of fist-first henchman, but this menace doesn't flow through into his delivery, with his threats rather more wooden than scary. Peluso varies from arrogant to hammy, and Nicholas is overly whiney as his character declares his romantic feelings, not an issue if his lines were less cliched. It's Zihler who comes out the best, with her character's apprehension, nervousness and anger much more genuine. Staveley comes a close second with the most natural delivery out of the four men. To a large extent, the actors are constrained by a weak plot, and I strongly suspect they're all capable of much better than this.

It's frustrating, because this is Brooking's debut play and you can certainly see what he's tried to achieve, it just hasn't worked. Having fashioned his storyline, he needs to polish the way in which this is presented, by rewriting the lines and approaching rehearsals as a piece of live action performance, not a film to be edited, cut up and glued back together. And the Godfather nods need to be toned down - after all, it's not exactly an unknown or unloved movie and can make original work pale in comparison - and the timing of silences needs to be reconsidered. Possibly some music can be sensibly introduced to shelter pauses and build tension.

Just as Mario Puzo declares great men are not born great, they grow great, it's rare that director-writers are immediately great themselves. Wearing two hats at the same time does take time to get right and there's certainly no shame in acknowledging that. There's a lot to take away and develop, but whilst Badge of Shame does need more work, its problems are not insurmountable.

Badge of Shame ran from 30th June to 4th July 2015 at the Hen and Chickens.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)



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