Given the flood of musical revivals and screen adaptations in London at the moment, it’s a shame that this bona fide brand new work by Paul Rayfield – a near-future satire on reality TV and media-packaged morality – lacks bite.
The year is 2016. The British government – led by (who else?) Nigel Farage – has outsourced paternity claims to ‘Payback’, a chatshow fronted by the Jeremy Kyle-esque Matt Matthews. But ratings have slipped and the Twittersphere is losing interest.
Matthew White is suitably vile as Matthews and the chatshow scenes bounce along, with the neat gimmick of turning us into the studio audience. There’s a lot of imagination on display here. But in spite of the bang-up-to-date references – from Wills and Kate to Jimmy Savile – ‘Payback’ doesn’t tell us anything new.
‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’ trampled over trashy chatshows first, and with more guts. And it’s hard to spoof a format that is, by now, knee-deep in self-parody. Also, why use a lie-detector chair to catch out feckless dads? Is there no DNA testing in 2016? The script is unclear.
Still, there’s a lot to like. Adam Flynn is great as Matthews’s hapless co-anchor Joe, imploring us to ‘go wild’, while Katie Bernstein and James Yeoburn are sweet as Isabel and Guilherme, a young couple from Rio de Janeiro who get involved with the show while searching for Guilherme's father - who might just be Howard Samuels's hammy British rock star, Billy Life.
A sequence of pre-filmed vox pop intercuts is genuinely funny and the music is catchy, but the singing is often drowned out by the orchestration and a climactic twist is sabotaged by off-kilter pacing. ‘Payback’ is fun but Simon Grieff’s production could do with more polish.
By Tom Wicker