I'm trying desperately to work up any kind of intense feelings, positive or negative, about any aspect of this production of Dolly Dhingra's latest play. And frankly, I'm failing. It just doesn't elicit anything more than faint disappointment.
Dhingra's story concerns seven twenty- or thirtysomething friends, six British Asian, the seventh black British, who conspire in a scam to buy goods on the American Express accounts of the mega-rich (we hear deliberately bad impersonations of Sean Connery and Cilla Black, for instance). There are hints of complexity and planning here, but the scam never catches fire and acquires dramatic momentum. That leaves us with the characters, who are set up at too great a length, or too sluggish a pace, and who are similarly anodyne: "I'm not a type, I'm an individual!" protests one in what is surely a moment of authorial irony. Love affairs start and end, some onstage, some off, with little difference in intensity between the two. There are desultory hints of contrast between characters' personal and criminal codes of honesty. One of the seven simply vanishes before the denouement. But nothing compelling on this score either.
I suspect this is a little hard on the play, which might work in a more vibrant production. But director Kully Thiarai serves only to dampen things down further. She elicits performances which are by turns exaggerated cardboard cut-outs and static wooden fixtures. None of the cast manages to seem natural within both the world of the play and a theatre of the Tricycle's intimate dimensions. Unnecessary movement sequences (including an anticlimactic Act One finale) are inserted, and surely it should have occurred to someone that using a live mobile phone for the climactic phone conversation might lead to interference with the PA system. (Unless, of course, the noise was deliberately included on the tape, in which case it's a joke that doesn't work but just annoys.)
I have to admit to being unfamiliar with Thiarai's work; I was astounded to find the long and substantial CV for her in the programme, culminating in her current joint artistic directorship of Leicester Haymarket (with whom this is a co-production). I would never have believed that someone so experienced could helm such a flaccid production. Does that count as an intense feeling?
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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