Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Getting Out

Sarah Henley
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
(2008)

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Sarah Henley gives this, her first play, a setting she is familiar with, a private practice law firm. It is not a tale of corporate clients and financial skulduggery but a 'below-stairs' picture, as it were, of what's going on among the staff. It takes place 'at the height of the credit crunch,' as the programme says, but, one reference apart, that has no relevance to the slight plot which concerns itself largely with the sex lives of its characters. These assorted office types, based perhaps on Henley's own time in such a practice, are broadly played to emphasise their comic potential. This is not so much a one act play as a set of instant character sketches that feel like Whose Line Is It Anyway? improvisations, cartoon comedy exaggerations.

The play opens with a clever mimed sequence of staff arriving and crowding into a lift, one person circling the acting area walking up the stairs, for which the credit goes to Gillian Foley, the movement half of the directing partnership with Francis Watson. As linking passages, to cover scene changes, or where stylization fits - as in a well-thought out and disgustingly diverting sequence in the ladies loos - this is effective but, in aiding the actors to differentiate between the two roles they are all called upon to play, it becomes exaggerated and self indulgent. For instance, there is a camp character with a passion for Feng Shui who wears a blue silk Chinese dressing gown on top of his business suit. You can meet all sorts in an office - but a bit OTT for a corporate lawyer, don't you think? Like the constant Elvis gyrations of Dan the messenger boy it is a cheap way to get a laugh.

Shamaya Chalabia, making her professional theatre debut doubling an Essex-girl telephonist and the Germanic assistant to a visiting American lawyer, gives a reality to her characters that makes some of the other playing look grotesque, but fortunately Kate Skinner, Timothy O'Hara and Phineas Pett have been allowed to play one of their pair of characters more naturally and Law Ballard, as down-trodden Bev, manages to combine the caricature her co-workers see with glimpses of a real person.

Getting Out is often funny, though I did not laugh nearly as much most of the young and enthusiastically supportive first night audience. Funny is really all that it sets out to be. This is like a Comedy Club night out and probably works best if you take a drink in with you.

Until 9th May 2009

Reviewer: Howard Loxton