Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn
If you are in the mood for some undemanding entertainment this comedy thriller from Ireland might just fit the bill. The Dublin Theatre Festival transfer from the Fishamble company is rather like an Irish version of Ben Elton's Popcorn, or, put another way, a stage incarnation of a Colin Bateman novel.
Rank sets a father and son team of Irish hoodlums against some deceptively wily gambling-addicted taxi drivers in a battle that must seemingly end at the very least in a death or two and quite possibly see the demise of almost everyone on stage.
Two tough oldies go head-to-head, using their protégés as pawns. Jack Farrell, played by Brookside favourite Bryan Murray, is a gangster made good who proudly announces that his most successful venture ever is not an illegal one. Having said that, his idea of a legitimate business venture centres on premium phone lines that sell aural sex.
His anger at the failure of cab driver Carl Conway (Alan King) to pay his gambling debts borders on the personal but despite his fondness for the recent widower, the older man nevertheless swiftly becomes vicious using a children's sized cricket bat with relish.
Jack has made his way as a crook on his wits. Luke Farrell's Fred, his son is not so much a chip off the old block as somebody whose brain has been carved from an old block. The play's funniest scene results from his inability to recognize his own cuckolding.
Carl's guardian angel and father-in-law is, like Jack, a hard case with a heart of gold. George Kelly is also another gambler who could not stop. Eamonn Hunt's character might have sold Jack down the river a generation before but has since been plagued with bad luck. Over a period of time, he has lost every member of his family including most recently his daughter, which started Carl's decline into financial and physical ruin.
Robert Massey cooks up these simple ingredients to create an enjoyably frothy concoction that contains enough mystery surrounding an armed robbery and an empty bag to hold the attention, with the able assistance of director Jim Culleton.
Having done this, the writer produces a stream of good jokes and funny situations. Strangely, by far his best creation is the last person that we see, the wonderfully named 'Two in the Bush' a cabbie mate of Carl and George.
John Lynn gives a delightful performance as this laid-back Lothario who wisecracks his way out of innumerable dangers, frequently having wisecracked his way into them in the first place. Bush is such a lovable rogue that he could be forgiven almost anything and has the kind of hippyish charm that might easily make him the hero of a TV comedy for a season or two.
With the difficulty of getting serious drama on to West End stages in the current economic climate and the constant threat that musicals will take over all of the major houses, maybe some light entertainment could be a solution, as has so often been the case in the past.
This is hardly Shakespeare, Chekhov or Oscar Wilde but if a producer wanted to follow this logic, he or she could do far worse than tighten up the script of Rank a little and give it a go in a big theatre. In doing so, there is at least the chance that such an approach might shift public sentiments and eventually get a few more straight plays back into Shaftesbury Avenue and its environs.
Playing until 29 November
Reviewer: Philip Fisher