King’s Head Theatre, London N1
Opened 25 July, 2005

Dan Crawford, who founded the King’s Head pub theatre in Islington in 1970 and had run it ever since, died earlier this month. He performed miracles in keeping the ramshackle venue going with a complete absence of public funding.  However, his instinct for hits wasn’t infallible, and this is an example.  It’s had loads of press coverage for its chattering-classes subject matter, but the actual play is a bit of a dog.

Remember all the media sex scandals of 2004? All at The Spectator magazine?  Editor Boris Johnson was at it with journo Petronella Wyatt; publisher Kimberly Fortier with Home Secretary David Blunkett; columnist Rod Liddle with a secretary – the only character whose name is changed in this play.  That’s the plot, basically. Lots of shagging, people discovering each other at it, plus Michael “Dracula” Howard.

Now, this play about bed-hopping at The Spectator is written by, er, the two theatre critics of The Spectator, with additional material (i.e. some actual jokes) by Jeremy (’Allo ’Allo) Lloyd.  It started life as a comic sketch for the magazine’s summer party, and it shows: it feels like fifth-formers lampooning their teachers at end-term.  Even at under two hours including interval, it seems over-stretched.

Two things about farce: one, it really needs the action to be continuous, so the tension can build; two, it has to be acted as if it was deadly serious.  So guess what? This show is cut up into shortish scenes which lose the dramatic impetus, and pretty much everybody plays their character as a pantomime version rather than a real person who has something to lose in the frenzy.  Its critic writers should know better.

It’s hard to make Boris Johnson look even more cartoonish than he already is, but somehow Tim Hudson manages it.  Michelle Ryan (Zoe from EastEnders) has no material to work with to link the two halves of her character, as a ditsy sec who’s really an undercover journo.  Sara Crowe bleats, Claudia Shear vamps, Peter Hamilton Dyer shambles as Rod Liddle – “but it doesn’t mean I’ve got a little rod!” And that’s a strong gag.

Paul Prescott tries to find a decent through line as Blunkett, but really only Jot Davies manages proper farce-acting, as a totally fictional figure, a gay Chilean chef named Renaldo.  And this might not really be the best time to perform a running gag about a South American whose visa has run out and who panics at police sirens, no?  It’ll sell: people will go to see what the fuss is about. They won’t find out.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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