Winner's Curse

Daniel Taub with Dan Patterson
Park Theatre
Park 200

Winner's Curse Credit: Alex Brenner
Winner's Curse Credit: Alex Brenner
Vaslika (Nichola McAuliffe) and the young Leitski (Arthur Conti) Credit: Alex Brenner

With the government stumbling so badly in their negotiations with workers that they reportedly had half a million striking on 1 February, a play about the process of negotiation would seem highly topical.

Unfortunately, Winner’s Curse, though pitched as an illustrated Nobel prize lecture about that process by the fictional former negotiator Hugo Leitski (Clive Anderson), is little more than a stack of outdated, often silly jokes wrapped around cartoon characters and a vague wandering plot that lasts 145 minutes.

Speaking directly to us throughout the show, the amiable Clive Anderson introduces the four negotiators of an imagined conflict between Kervistan and Moldovia a long time ago. At that time, the young Leitski (Arthur Conti) was assistant to the lead Kervistan negotiator Anton Korakov (Michael Maloney).

We don’t get to know much about the dispute, but the audience is encouraged to take part in various exercises such as thumb wrestling and using their finger to write the letter P on their forehead.

The latter task was supposed to illustrate the way men and women write it differently because women have more empathy. Interesting though I found that exercise, like everything else in the show, it was attached to ridiculous jokes with one character echoing the Carry On Cleo words of Kenneth Williams “infamy infamy they’ve all got it in for me” by substituting the word empathy. Another character looking below the waist of a male says, “I always remember you and your little P.”

The audience sits on four sides of the stage on which two desks form the main props, but every prop seems doomed to be simply the brunt of a bad joke, so when the owner of the Black Lagoon Lodge, Vaslika (Nichola McAuliffe), where talks are taking place repeatedly respectfully taps the urn carrying her husband’s remains, we can guess what will happen to that urn. One negotiator uses it as an ash tray for a spliff she is smoking and another vomits his meal into it.

In case the characters aren’t cartoonish enough, one of them will give us a description that helps us imagine them more absurdly. Thus someone says of the American mediator (Greg Lockett), “I bet he dances with pigs in the nude.”

Perhaps in a rundown pub in the 1950s, some of the supposed jokes and exercises would have worked as a twenty-minute stand-up comedy support act, but the gloomy faces of the reviewers trudging to the Tube after the show suggest this play in its present form doesn’t work.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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