Jumping the Shark by David Cantor & Michael Kingsbury. Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate Village, London N6 to 17 March 2023. 3***. William Russell.

The idea for this comedy about what happens when a group of people sign up for a course in how to write a sit com is a good one but the play needs more work – the first act is short on laughs although the second half, when the terrible five perform the results of their labours, does take wing. The six strong cast work hard but sometimes go rather too far over the top in the pursuit of a laugh that actually isn’t there. They are also not all that interesting as characters. That said there is quite a lot to enjoy. David Schaal as Frank Donahue, the man doing the teaching, one half of a Galton and Simpson or La Frenais and Clement as it were, holds things together nicely while Robin Sebastian as Gavin conjures up an actor who hasn’t worked for three years and is forever telling about who he has worked with while trying to get off with Pam (Sarah Moyle), the one time actress now housewife taking the course, and manages to be both funny and sad. Jack Trueman as Dale, the bombastic one with no friends, also gets the laughs but hams it up rather too much for a character we are supposed to see as also sad. The trouble is the back stories are not all that interesting nor is why Frank is now minus a partner – he is actually on the slide, one half of a double act seldom survives separation, – and the plot about just what went on with the not quite what she seems Amy (Jasmine Armfield) is not strong enough. The person worst served is Harry Visinoni as Morgan who is clearly meant to be the oddest ball of the lot and gets very little to work on.

In the first act we get to know them all but the first act curtain isn’t strong enough to make one want to come back to find out what comes next, although we know that when we do we will see the results of their labours which will, of course, be dire. But as far as their personal lives are concerned one never cares. Jumping the Shark proves a harmless and entertaining pursuit with which to pass a couple of hours but the shark turns out toothless.

Jackl Trueman: Dale.

Jasmine Armfield: Amy.

Harry Visinoni: Morgan.

David Schall: Frank.

Robin Sebastian: Gavin.

Sarah Moyle: Pam.

Director: Michael Kingsbury.

Production photography: Robert Armstrong.

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