A play about the world's worst play from David Spicer.
There’s a rich tradition of making a great play out of the worst of theatre, from Terence Rattigan’s ‘Harlequinade’ through Michael Frayn’s indubitable classic ‘Noises Off’ to more recent hits like ‘An Appointment with the Wicker Man’ and ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. Everyone loves a car-crash, and the world of horny ego-fuelled actors, ranting megalomaniac directors and capricious writers is fertile ground for farce and sniping satire. Every rich tradition has its poorer cousins, however, and despite the bug-eyed, vein-swelling efforts of David Spicer’s new comedy, ‘Stop! The Play’ is more trial than triumph.
The set-up is classic enough, though lacking in specificities. A Variety Pack of actors (the young naïve woman and her jaded older counterpart, the ageing lothario, the old duffer) are struggling to rehearse a play under the chaotic guidance of inexperienced director Evelyn. An unseen writer sends a new overhaul every day, cutting characters and adding ever more ludicrous plot twists. But where these elements should gain their sense of familiarity from closeness to life, instead we recognise them more from the clichés and formulas of previous superior attempts at this same theme.
The first half has a few decent lines, most of which fall to James Woolley’s elderly Walter (‘I stripped off once in Leatherhead, in “Equus”. I was only an usher, but it got me noticed’), but mostly it’s just endless bouts of gurning, shouting and cringing about same-sex kisses, with star-casting comedian Adam Riches strenuously forgettable. There’s an unappealing and juvenile priggishness that hangs over Spicer’s script, its frequent sniggering swipes at lesbians souring what could otherwise pass for frothy, if under-flavoured, fun.
Fatally, the second act comprises entirely of the play they have been rehearsing: the pseudo-experimental ‘Bansky Ain’t Gay’, which bears no resemblance whatsoever to any work staged anywhere ever. It’s the sort of play the Daily Mail might shrunkenly invent to torture itself – pretentious, porny, modish, but actually mainly concerned with house prices. Pot shots are taken at antique straw men, there’s a lot more shouting, and rather than building to a climax of calamity, it limps off stage almost apologetically. Though not, it must be said, apologetically enough.