Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Reviewed – 12th August 2019
“the audience is just watching a space with two chairs and a table, listening to an actor tell a story”
Agent 14 proclaims itself to be a one man show about a British intelligence agent “twice the age of 007 — but…twice as good!”. Hanging the success of a production on the protagonist’s age does this James Bond spoof no favours, especially when the script misses every chance to show us why an agent with thirty one years in the secret service is such an asset.
It’s always a risky business, spoofing a franchise as successful as Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. The advantage is that your audience will come to the theatre ready to recognise the jokes about the alleged trappings of international espionage. But you still have to deliver a drama that includes these elements, and which then does something unexpected with them. Agent 14 sets us up to believe that we are about to see a show where age triumphs over beauty and youthful athleticism. Unfortunately, Agent 14 inexplicably derails itself instead, presenting us with a story about men long past retirement age (for the secret service) trying to solve one last mystery.
Sadly, this one hander by Ann Richards is no action drama either. It is all tell, and no show. But then, there is a reason James Bond stories work so well in film, where rapid changes to lots of exotic locations are expected, as well as death defying stunts on complicated sets. It is very difficult to stage these things unless one has the resources of the National Theatre, and even then, elaborate staging cannot disguise a weak script. Staged upstairs at the more modest, but very welcoming Gatehouse pub, Agent 14 is essentially sixty minutes of sitting and listening to one actor recite an Ian Fleming-like story with several switches of character and some attempts at dialogue. At the very least, this script cries out for two actors. It’s a tough assignment for just one actor, no matter how talented. Not surprisingly, solo performer Gary Phillpott delivers an uncertain performance whether it is playing Agent 14 Hugo Gunn, or a charlady, or his boss, or a taxi driver, or even a sultry Russian spy. All the references to sports cars, bespoke Savile Row suits, fine cuisine, and unlimited cash to gamble with, cannot disguise the fact that, in Agent 14, the audience is just watching a space with two chairs and a table, listening to an actor tell a story.
Agent 14, produced by the Off The Fence Theatre Company, is part of the ongoing Camden Fringe Festival, which has several other shows running at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in
Highgate Village and other venues.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Images by ZigZag Photography
Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 18th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019
Previously reviewed at this venue: