Review by Tulis McCall
(28 Sep 2010)
This is the story of a whacked out research department belonging to a tiny paper in Nowhere England. Everyone who works there is a bit mad, and the research department, run by one woman Lucy (Angela Reed) is the only safe place to be. At first glance, this fright of an office (this play is a Stage Manager’s nightmare, second only to True West) appears anything but safe, with every square inch of the set inhabited by overflowing files, so as time goes on you wonder what the rest of the newspaper’s offices must look like.
As the curtain rises we see the new kid in town at the moment when she sees her future work environment. Lesley (Audrey Lynn Weston) is brilliant in the dead-pan department and we immediately feel for her. One by one the inmates stumble in looking for the odd fact, in need of conversation, or simple in need. What they are in need of, it turns out, is the very source of the state of the office – Lucy.
This is not so much an office as it is a mushy, sentimental and dysfunctional family as only the Brits can show it. Think Noises Off meets The Desk Set. Indeed the author, Michael Frayne, is the very same author of Noises Off. So for those of you who ever had the pleasure of seeing that play – you are familiar with the frenzy that this man can create.
The frenzy here does not quite live up to what is on the page, although the actors give it their best shot. I think it is because this sort of dialogue depends on the music and rhythm of the accents. It is an audio as well as a visual event. The only actor able to maintain the crisp accent required here is John Windsor-Cunningham who is, guess what – a Brit.
William Connell as John in particular gives it a good go upon his entrance. As the completely self involved journalist he is more in love with the sound of his voice than with any meaning that might be attached to it. And Reed nearly keeps her end of the bargain as well. But the rest of the cast drifts in and out of accents like a fast moving fog in San Francisco. So they lose their grip on the pacing.
In addition the plot splinters into tiny bundles in the second act, leaving the actors to hop over story details like children on stepping-stones. Romances about which we know nothing come to an end, and others are simmering in the wings without so much as a by-your-leave.
The audience is asked to make great leaps and is rewarded with predictable moments that we should not have seen coming. The change from messy to tidy back to chaos would have been appreciated much more if it had not been telegraphed from the start. This must go back to the director, Carl Forsman who was not able to get his cast into the rhythm of the piece. Everyone is operating on their own time table here, and the intended effect of an ensemble in motion is never achieved.
Just a little to little.
"The play proves a zippy little vehicle for a delightful cast under the fine direction of the Keen leader, Carl Forsman."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Contains elements of both (Slapstick & Drama), fails to satisfy as either."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Less funny than one feels it's supposed to be."
Sam Thielman for Variety