Have you ever been on a date, felt it was going well, something worthwhile might be developing, and then the other person said something so crass that you couldn’t wait to get out of there and never go within a mile of them again? Some plays are like that. This is one. Toby Whithouse’s TV-wrestling three-hander has sharp comedy and moments of great poignancy, then blows it all when two characters start debating Culture.
Martin Freeman’s time playing Tim in TV’s The Office is useful both to bring in crossover audiences and as a point of reference for his character here. At first middle-ranking TV man Duncan’s plans for an updated revival of small-screen wrestling contain “ouch” moments straight out of the David Brent folder. Then it becomes clear that he’s a sly, two-faced git who’ll stop at nothing and sacrifice anybody to get ahead.
Serena Evans (Sgt Dawkins in The Thin Blue Line) as production assistant Emma is excellent at showing how unimpressed she is, in different ways, by Duncan’s waffle and by the memories of ageing grappler Victor, the putative star. As Victor, “The Count of Monte Cristo”, John Stahl is as magnificent as ever. Almost as impressive as his acting is the energy he puts into hurtling around the wrestling-ring that is the stage.
A good dose of comedy of embarrassment, Office-style, gives way to something more touching, as both Victor and Emma reveal how fervently they respond to the prospect of the series: it’s all he has left, but she’s appalled by it. Then, about 20 minutes from the end of this 90-minute play, comes a plot turn, and Duncan and Emma start arguing about quality versus popularity in culture. That's what it’s all been building to?
The climax, the most impassioned part of the whole play, has nothing at all original to say and no fresh ideas about saying it. After so much promise, it all goes the way of the pear. At the end, Victor lays into Duncan and roars to the audience, “What shall I do with him?” And we roar back, just like the crowd at a real wrestling match. It might be a final clever comment on culture, but it just hacked me off.
Written for Teletext.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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