White Bear Theatre
Reviewed – 15th January 2020
“the trio take the art of self-deprecation to a brand-new level that is a joy to watch”
‘Welcome to the Co-Op; the acting agency run by actors for actors’. For many individuals in the acting profession these words are a cause for celebration. They want to be in control of their career and the benefits of a co-operative agency over a conventional one is that it is managed by the actors themselves. There is no pressure to say yes to jobs they don’t want in order to keep their agent happy; they can see exactly what they are being submitted for and they are working in a team of like-minded, dedicated people keen to support you.
Let’s run that line again: ‘Welcome to the Co-op’. Coming from the mouths of the dysfunctional pair of struggling actors portrayed by Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson and Cara Steele, these words are more likely to have you reaching for the bottle in desperation and fear rather than celebration. Fogarty-Graveson and Steele are Jimmy and Caz respectively; desperately trying to keep their heads above water as their agency is sinking fast in a sea of unpaid bills, disconnected utilities and silent phone lines. Their best friend has deserted them having landed a job in ‘Holby City’. Enter Charlie (Felix Grainger), a babe in the woods thesp who might just be the answer to their problems.
This is the debut play by ‘Make It Beautiful Theatre Company’, described as a love letter to theatre and film, but also comes across as a love letter to themselves. As a result, the humour touches on indulgence and is in danger of alienating audiences beyond their immediate circle. Nevertheless, the laughs come thick and fast throughout this sixty minutes of anarchic mayhem, and the trio take the art of self-deprecation to a brand-new level that is a joy to watch. Their quick fire pace should be enough to sustain the piece, but the momentum is sometimes stalled by baffling moments of unnecessary physicality. At one point for instance, Charlie performs a weird dance to Eddy Grant’s ‘Electric Avenue’ as an audition for Hamlet.
Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson and Felix Grainger are the credited writers, but the overall sense is that of a devised collaboration. And like the co-op it depicts the three actors are certainly dedicated and committed to each other. It could certainly benefit from an outside eye, however, to weed out some of the more obscure references if it wants to reach a wider audience. Yet it is an exciting prospect and this show has the potential to stand out from the crowd. Bizarrely they seem to be trying just a little too hard. The company biog references the Russian practitioner Vakhtangov as an inspiration (I had to google him too!) who specialised in heightened expression and what is known as ‘the dramatic grotesque’. I’d like to think that this allusion is an extension of their tongue-in-cheek approach to the production, rather than the fact that some of the acting is overdone.
“The Co-Op” is mad, and it’s wild, but it is a beast that does need reigning in. There is much more under the surface, but it is obscured by the untamed humour and overstated exposition of this show.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
White Bear Theatre until 25th January
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: