DUPLICITY FOR BEGINNERS
Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 23rd July 2021
This new one-act play begins as an old-school farce. Set in a room of the Hotel Royale, two men are inadvertently there to meet the same woman. Somehow they manage to avoid each other at first, with plenty of well-timed comings and goings through the various entrances and exits. And, being a farce, the trousers soon come off.
Things take a darker turn when the woman fails to turn up. Now we are in clever thriller territory—think Sleuth or Deathtrap and nothing is as it first appeared. Writer Ben Mills-Wood has created a tight and funny script, but I’m afraid his direction can’t quite bring his ideas to the stage. He comes pretty close, though.
There is much to enjoy here, not least the writing. There’s Jason Adam’s affable comedic stylings as the cheeky concierge; David Sims as Harvey the husband is at his strongest when he loses his temper; and Oliver Jones as the lover balances exaggeration and nuance to give an effective performance. There are delightful moments of frame-breaking, drawing attention to the artifice and contrivance of the piece. But this kind of thing needs consistent energy. Unfortunately, commitment to the action tends to be patchy as the cast’s confidence ebbs and flows.
To be fair, this is the first night, so you can forgive a few stumbles, a few dropped lines, and you can expect things to shape up for subsequent performances. The pacing needs sharpening so that every convolution of the plot hits the spot and doesn’t slip between the cracks. It should run like clockwork, but a few cogs need tightening. Or, to change metaphors, this diamond in the rough requires some targeted polishing to make it the gem it has the potential to be.