"Last supper for sorry celebrities"
by Andy MOSELEY for remotegoat on 31/10/12

A J Evans play is an intelligently written and diligently researched piece exploring the artificial lives of literary, academic, and dramatic cliques, and the real-life damage they inflict on people drawn into them through the accident of birth.

It opens with playwright Hector Grey welcoming Jane Burdock, a Times columnist he had a brief affair with, and subsequently wrote a play about. He continues to revive the play, taking the lead against a succession of ever younger females. Eva, the latest of them, is next to arrive. Over the course of a crowded first act they are joined by four more supper party guests and Hector's wife, Lady Cynthia.

The act is awash with literary references, inviting the audience to guess who the real-life role models may be. A few red herrings are thrown in, does the reference to Hector's script about a detective with psoriasis suggest he is Dennis Potter? Meanwhile, the self-serving group backbite and debate the relative merits of fiction and non-fiction, and the extent to which both draw heavily on the other.

None of this prepares us for the second act, which may be the point, as the group is laid into by Ludo, the son Jane devotes many column inches to. He intrudes on a game of charades and swiftly accuses veteran actor Sir Rudolph Treglown of child abuse, before making lesser charges against his mother, Hector and Lady Cynthia, and apologising to Eva and the last guest, Patrick Fenton, for drawing them into this.

The protectiveness the others show towards Sir Rudolph might have seemed implausible a few weeks ago, but the play benefits from recent events highlighting how showbusiness keeps its secrets to itself.

Where the play doesn't work is in creating suspense. The first half is well-observed with believable characters, but is almost a comedy of manners, leaving you wondering where the main story will emerge from. When Hector and Eva, and Lady Cynthia and Patrick, find themselves alone, you suspect what follows will be about the philandering literary couple. Thankfully it isn't, but, that being the case, Ludo needs to come in and shake things up sooner. When he does arrive, by making his biggest accusation first, it steals the thunder from what is to follow, with every other character assassination an anti-climax after the main event.

The play also has too many characters. Whilst the actors gave strong performances, Eva and Patrick illustrated little about the behaviour of their hosts that couldn't have been achieved without them physically being there, and their sub-plots pulled focus from the well-established clique and Ludo.

The promotional material has comments by theatres that read, and declined to produce, the play. It says this is because it's too controversial, but I doubt this is the only reason. While it is an entertaining and intelligent piece of theatre, Evans could do with removing some its excess, sharpening its focus, and going for a more direct approach to achieve the potential her script undoubtedly has.

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