Things We Want
Jonathan Marc Sherman
Play With Fire & Swaggering Crow
Hope Mill Theatre
The latest production from Play With Fire, one of Hope Mill's resident companies, is the UK première of an American comedy that was first produced off-Broadway with a star director (Ethan Hawke) and cast more than ten years ago. It seems that West End producers haven't been queueing up to bring it across the Pond.
The play revolves around three brothers. Teddy (Paddy Young) has a good job working for "Dr Miracle" peddling some kind of cure-all lifestyle snake oil involving prime numbers in which he wholeheartedly believes. He looks down on his brother Sty (William J Holstead)—literally, as he spends his whole time lying on the sofa drunk cuddling a bonsai tree (don't ask me).
The play opens with the return of third brother Charlie (Alex Phelps) who announces that he has dropped out of school, where he was training to be a chef, and then pines ceaselessly for his ex-girlfriend Zelda. Sty calls neighbour and fellow alcoholic ('recovering' in her case) Stella (Hanna Ellis Ryan) to cheer up his brother and they hit it off.
Twelve months later: Teddy lost his job after Dr Miracle absconded, so he's the one on the couch with the bottle while Sty is the self-righteous recovering alcoholic. Charlie has a job as a chef, and Stella... perhaps isn't as settled in their relationship as he thinks.
There is the tragedy of their parents' suicides lurking in their past to try to add depth to what is basically an American TV sitcom, but even that is given a self-conscious 'quirkiness' that pervades the whole play, which is also liberally sprinkled with adolescent 'shock' humour—most of which neither shocks nor humours.
Director Daniel Bradford tackles the opening group scenes as American quick-fire crosstalk comedy, and so has them shouting their lines at one another at high speed, but no thought appears to have been given to what they are actually saying. Perhaps this will settle down as the production beds in.
Once the actors relax into the scenes with more substance than gags, we get to know, if not exactly like, the characters a bit more. The scene where Stella and Charlie first meet grows nicely from his initial awkwardness to growing physical attraction and affection, Charlie and reformed Sty have a nice scene together early in the second half and there is a nice build-up when Stella and alcoholic Teddy are left alone together towards the end. But even these situations are not entirely convincing as frequently the atmosphere is punctuated by gratuitous wisecracking or quirky little details that add little to the scene.
There are decent performances from a strong cast, but really this is an '80s (possibly even '50s) US sitcom with added swearing and pretensions to a depth and profundity that it never achieves.
Reviewer: David Chadderton