"Nice idea, but no bonus"
by Maddy Ryle for remotegoat on 07/08/10

Reviewing the National's performance of Stoppard's 'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour', from which this play has been adapted, Lyn Gardner described the production as 'a very clever, entertaining and expensive joke.' Now I must say straight away that I don't know the Stoppard play, but her assessment was that without the relevance of the Soviet political oppression that Stoppard was writing about in the Seventies, his ironic script lost its punch.

Fair play, then, to Semper Theatre for looking again at the play and attempting to redraw its message for current times. And initially the attempt is encouraging, with some funny and astute writing at times very well delivered. The decision to introduce a new character in the form of a journalist is necessary and successful, and the substitution of a deadbeat rock band for the orchestra of the original works well. Disappointingly, however, the transformation can't sustain itself, and the sense of a wry ironic impact on the small audience had given way by the end to one of bemusement and of an idea stretched too far.

The premise of Phil Hurt's rewriting is to replace Stoppard's political dissident with a 'greedy banker' who has declared himself insane in order to get away from the hatred of the public and the intrusion of the media after he is fingered as a particularly loathsome and guilty example of those responsible for the credit crunch. While he sanely tries to convince his sinister but amusing doctor (the best performance of the night from Jon Deeming) that he is mad, he is driven to distraction by his roommate of the same name, who imagines himself to be the lead singer of an imaginary band, and subject to the pleas of his sister to come home.

There are some real high points - when the banker himself starts to deliver his words as spoken lyrics, the imaginary 'Dead Crabs' in accompaniment, the writing is good and the sense of blur between sane and insane, real and imaginary is effective; it makes you think about the reality of paranoia and it reinforces the play's questioning of the role of the media in society. The truly despicable journalist insists to the pliable sister that newspapers exist not to make people take action but to keep them entertained with stories. When her editor rejects a story about the brother's faked mental illness she explains that 'he's an old-fashioned journalist who wants to see verifiable sources - it's how things used to be in the old days'. Since her brother is now a well-known public figure, she persuades the showbiz editor to take on the piece instead.

This got some knowing laughs, but the acting was inconsistent - indeed very weak in places - and ultimately it felt like the premise of the original play had been taken from the hanger and in the end couldn't be made to fit into the new, modern shape. This became more and more apparent, and by the time the Prime Minister is called in to assess the mental wellbeing of both the genuine Madman and the former Banker, the credibility of the play's analysis had been somewhat exhausted. A brave attempt, with some moments of real pleasure, but the abrupt ending was marked mainly by a sense of confusion.

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