King's Head Theatre, London N1
Opened 31 August, 2006

This is not by any means the worst show I have seen at the King's Head this summer; however, since its run follows that of the mind-bendingly atrocious A Right Royal Farce, this is but faint praise. I did not see (nor do I recall hearing about) Andrew Doyle's play when it premièred on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2003, but I can imagine that, running at perhaps 75 minutes in a high-speed there'll-be-another-along-in-a-minute atmosphere, it may have worked quite well. However, bulked out to two hours including interval, placed in the more conspicuous and much less forgiving context of the London fringe and in particular of the idiosyncratic King's Head venue, it is stretched far too thin, and before long it twangs like Granny's knicker elastic giving up the ghost.

"A group of actors assemble near Stratford to mount a production of Hamlet, not knowing it's a front for the producer's plans, inspired by Shakespeare's ghost, to rob the poet's grave in search of lost plays." I am indebted to the press release for this synopsis, since otherwise I would have had no idea what producer Marcus was doing with the shade of old Bill. I'm still mystified as to where the ghost comes from, why Anne Hathaway is dressed so anachronistically or what is in any way the point of a grotesque cod-Lithuanian landlady with an American accent and a personality out of a 1940s Republic horror movie by way of Vic Reeves. However, nor do I care.

The parody of theatre types is hideously overdone both in the script and in James Robert Carson's production. There's a vivacity and inventiveness to Doyle's writing when he grants bitchy outbursts to his characters (particularly the ageing queen Isambard, whom Gregory Floy almost imbues with some interest), and also in the occasional double-edged phrase such as "She was the sort of woman who used sex to get people into bed." However, these are tiny, brief sparks in an evening which, whilst not actively tedious, is none the less devoid of the opposite characteristics.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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