HOW TO ACT AROUND COPS
Soho Theatre + Writersí Centre, London W1
Opened 15 October, 2004
***

Logan Brown and Matthew Benjaminís smart black comedy came from New York to Edinburgh in August, where it won a Fringe First award, and now to one of the best London off-West End venues.  As often happens, a big success in the hothouse atmosphere of Edinburgh seems a little diminished when seen elsewhere in a less frenzied environment.  Itís not what youíd call disappointing or at all bad; just... well, less good.

The basic idea is simple: people feel guilty in front of a cop, even when theyíre not (or not much). So they lie. Itís even worse when the actual truth sounds implausible: even when you try to come clean youíre not believed.  The scenario here starts with a couple of guys in a car being pulled over.  The little fibs blossom out of control, and a routine traffic booking ends up leaving several corpses behind it.

Itís cleverly put together, and on one level you canít blame the cop for doubting what heís told: I mean, whoíd believe a driver claiming he canít help you because heís got epileptic amnesia?  The cop is also shown to be a rookie, a little too ready to crack down hard because heís edgy and insecure.  The net result is that this triptych of dimly-lit scenes seems ridiculous, absurd, but never downright untrue.

Itís written in high-speed, Tarantino-meets-Mamet dialogue. When you look at a published playscript, a page of text usually takes about a minute and a half to act; here itís the other way round.  Jon Schumacher directs at the requisite pace, and even finds some moments when things can usefully be underplayed.  The American cast of five pitch things well, keeping the near-darkness fizzing with electricity for 70 minutes.

So what is it about the production that leaves you feeling just a bit ďho-humĒ?  I think itís just the central idea. As I said, itís simple: cops spook people. This show is a clever illustration of that point, but it doesnít make you see it afresh in a revelatory new light.  You knew this thing as you went into the theatre; you know it coming out.  The point is made entertainingly, but it doesnít ultimately need made at all.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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