This new play from actor/playwright/comedian/Rex-from-‘Toy Story’ Wallace Shawn is incredibly, unspeakably tedious… until suddenly it’s not.
Opening with an almost virtuosically dull eight page monologue from Josh Hamilton’s suave writer protagonist Robert, we’re introduced to a world of faded writers and actors, droning on incessantly about former glories as they stage a reunion in the titular members’ club. It potters on like a baffling, slo-mo episode of ‘Toast of London’: Robert and his cronies waffle on about the past with self-important nostalgia, interspersed with discussions of peers’ TV careers with envy or schadenfreude.
But suddenly, somehow, it sneaks up on you that there is something profoundly bizarre about this world: did Sinéad Matthews’s waitress Jane really say she spent a spell travelling world as a killer? Is the beating faded actor Dick (Wallace himself) took from a bunch of ‘friends’ considerably more meaningful that it seems when he first described it? Why is the excerpt from Robert’s ten-year-old hit play ‘Midnight in a Clearing with Moon an Stars’ so bizarre and twee and divorced from recognisable theatre? What is going on here? Are we witnessing some bizarre dystopian future? Are these withered, battered, nervous husks the last remnants of civilisation? Is the whole thing a peculiarly droll allegorical satire on the narcissism of the entertainment industry?
Ian Rickson’s production is flat, wordy, obscure and pointedly un-atmospheric at first, and whatever the artistic decisions that have led us here, it's really not very edifying. But from the boredom something increasingly fascinating is teased, so subtly at first that I doubted it was really there, but as the play wears on its compelling strangeness is teased into the light. As it finally got its claws in, I kind of wanted to see it again, from the start.