Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
August, 2006

Between its pre-Edinburgh run in Guildford and its opening here, Guy Jones's play has been so edited that it now contains no reference whatever to the eponymous garment. We now have no idea what its significance is among the cast, bilious writer and martinet American director of the fictional TV hospital-soap Healing Hands. Far better if Jones had taken a hatchet to the various lines, speeches and entire scenes in which, usually through the mouthpiece of scriptwriter Nick, he excoriates the celebrity-fixated, big-issue-neglecting vacuity of contemporary popular culture. It is as if the character's own words are drowned out by a cacophony of tubs being thumped, with Author's Messages blaring out with all the subtlety of propaganda tannoy output in a battle zone.

The no-longer-extra-large Mike McShane still puts all the energy of several normal men into his performance as director Alex; Jim Field Smith of comedy company the Dutch Elm Conservatoire is that way inclined himself, as embittered second-fiddle actor Jack. As Nick, Les Dennis's commitment cannot be faulted, and he nearly has the theatrical chops to carry off the character, or would have if Jones didn't keep tying lead weights to Dennis's lines. The thing about a character who keeps up a stream of bilious wisecracks to which everybody else remarks "That's not funny" is that they should actually be fairly funny as far as the audience is concerned. I think Jones may think they are. He is wrong.

If Jones's script isn't terminally homophobic in its treatment of in-the-closet star Will (Jeremy Edwards), Ed Curtis's production finishes the job with touches like having the character overnight begin dressing as a gay caricature. The cast are admirably and undeservedly committed to a script which imagines itself to be a scathing satire but is in fact a stream of dreary, lazy cartooning interrupted by gouts of self-indulgent pronouncement.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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