Stop! The Play Has A Terrible Script — Deliberately

By Londonist Last edited 41 months ago
Stop! The Play Has A Terrible Script — Deliberately ★★★☆☆ 3

James Woolley, Tosin Cole, Hatty Preston, Adam Riches, Ben Starr and Hannah Stokely. Photo by Matt Humphrey.

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

It's not every day that someone deliberately sets out to write a terrible play. But that's precisely how David Spicer's entertaining new comedy came to life.

In a similar mould to Noises Off, it follows a team of actors and their director as they attempt to rehearse and then perform an absolute stinker of a play. So, naturally, the first step for Spicer was to write 35 minutes of dismal drama for them to stage.

In this capacity at least, he has succeeded admirably, for it really is abysmal — hilariously so. Among the inspired stage directions are gems such as "Like a dead swan, the man was unflappable," and "He hangs on every word like a puppy on a teat". There's plenty more where that came from, as well as a laughable plot and dialogue so mangled it makes every character sound like they're in the throes of a drunken bender.

The performance of this dreadful play-within-the-play constitutes the second half of the actual play, while the first half is given over to its turbulent rehearsal — a maelstrom of raging egos, histrionics and talentless posturing, all colliding at breakneck speed as the actors attempt to navigate their way through rewrite after rewrite, each of which changes the narrative almost beyond recognition.

As mentioned, the entire piece owes a considerable debt to Noises Off. And while it isn't really a patch on Michael Frayn's classic backstage comedy, it certainly has its moments. There are plenty of strong laughs, and several episodes of outright hilarity. It's directed with flair by John Schwab and brought to life by an impressive cast. Comedy star Adam Riches is good as the ego-mad central actor, but the show is stolen by two wonderful performances from Ben Starr and Hatty Preston, as the hapless director and an eager young star respectively.

However, the play is not without its problems, namely in the second half, when the actors are supposed to be performing before a live audience. As embittered with the work as they might be, and regardless of the scale of their theatrical disaster, it seems inconceivable that they would break character so freely and not make more of an effort to muddle through (indeed, it would be funnier they did). Furthermore, it seems unlikely that two supposedly professional actors would have such an aversion to playing gay when the script requires it.

That aside, this is a thoroughly likeable and undeniably funny new play. It's not a classic, but if you're in the mood for some madcap comedy, this could be just the ticket.

By Dan Frost

Stop! The Play is on at Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, until 27 June. Tickets £15-£25. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

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Last Updated 04 June 2015