Thursday 13th October 2022 at at the Jack Studio Theatre, London
Reviewer: Issy Flower
James Woolf’s The Play With Speeches is an unwieldy comic beast: long and unformed, it delivers the laughs but is neither satirical nor emotional enough to transcend its limitations.
Anthony (Matthew Parker) and Penny (Gillian King) are auditioning for Anthony’s new “play”, The Play With Speeches: a compilation of audition monologues formed into a narrative. The metatheatrical flourish is that we, the audience, have been mistakenly booked in to watch this auditioning process: a lovely idea on paper that doesn’t quite come off on stage, as the play becomes reduced to just watching a parade of actors (surely the largest seen in a pub theatre in eons) performing.
The actors are all, frustratingly for the play’s comic purposes, very good; particular standouts include Harrison Trott (whose character is supposed to be good!), Ingrid Marsh and Anna Blackburn. However in casting strong actors it makes their job of being awful even harder, and the script doesn’t help, falling short of truly satirising the London pub scene—the most successful of the speeches are those that interrogate pub theatre’s tendency to over-analogise and over-dramatise, but this element is not pushed far enough. As a result, it feels as if we’re watching the same scene over and over again, funny to those who’ve experienced the auditioning process but perhaps less so to the rest of the audience.
The play’s true strength is found in the interplay between Anthony and Penny, who deliver the standout performances and characterisations of the night. Their resentment and bitterness is comic gold, with King delivering an annoyed but quietly triumphant portrait, but Parker runs away with the night and most of the laughs. Anthony is a bitter, pent-up petty little man who frequently goes an uncomfortable shade of red. Is he slightly overplayed? To the rafters. Is he funny? Undoubtedly.
Although some metaphysical nuance is attempted towards the end of the show (and which seems a bit out of place considering the play’s general formlessness before this point), it generally drifts back from in-depth character study, but when it does delve into Anthony and Penny’s relationship, it is at its best.
The Play With Speeches is a good concept executed about as well as it could be: constructing a play out of something with no plot isn’t easy, and it’s impressive that it is as enjoyable as it is. By leaning closer to either its satirical or character-based intentions, it could override its novelty and become truly brilliant.
The Play with Speeches plays the Jack Studio Theatre until October 22nd 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.
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