NO NAUGHTY BITS
by Steve Thompson.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 15 October 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed 2.30pm, Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 8 Oct 3pm (+ Touch Tour).
Captioned 11 Oct.
Post-show Discussion 11 Oct.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 September.
And now for something funnily thoughtful.
In the mid-1970s, when Steve Thompson’s new play is set (largely in America), its subject provided a brief surreal moment in London. Following the annual military Beating Retreat display, the band set off from Horse Guards Parade along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace.
Marching straight-backed in bright uniforms, they hit the middle-section of Sousa’s march ‘Liberty Bell’. And so the signature-tune from the most subversive TV comedy ever sounded-out amid traditional tourist splendour.
By then America had discovered Monty Python’s Flying Circus, though the Pythons’ most famous member had left to make the best-ever sitcom, before establishing a business training businessmen to be better communicators. ABC televised a late, inferior series, without John Cleese, cut to accommodate advertising-breaks and the conservative taste of – well, Idaho is named.
This meant war, which in America meant law: almost as costly as military campaigning. Thompson shows the two least-equipped ‘Pythons’ taking on corporate TV – Terry (Sam Alexander, blithely smiling in the bubble of his own existence), the American who substitutes anger for argument, and nice middle-class Michael his strong, black-haired appearance belied, in Harry Hadden-Paton’s well-judged performance, by nervous expression and conscience-ridden voice.
Yet this shambling, amateurish Englishman rocks the boat, casts the Pythons’ cause adrift then brings them safe to shore when his sense of right is offended – despite Terry’s wackiness, inefficient American publicist Nancy (lively Charity Wakefield) and their no-nonsense lawyer (a forceful Clive Rowe, proving he’s not just a pretty voice).
Thompson’s play isn’t consistently funny, though it’s always amusing in Edward Hall’s hop-and-skip production, on Francis O’Connor’s giant TV set, complete with Python bigfoot – its final descent on big-bucks America is ironic, given the heart-on-sleeve, prophetic warnings about the dead weight of corporate TV.
Nor is the final plot-turn convincingly introduced. But Thompson suddenly switches-on Pythonic humour in, of all places, the trial. Matthew Marsh’s zany judge (well-judged, naturally) remote on a high seat, and speaking softly into a microphone, distancing the voice, is a master of detail in handling Fried (John Guerrasio, quietly comic as ABC’s counsel). Pleasantly thoughtful overall, if not quite something completely different.
Michael: Harry Hadden-Paton.
Terry: Sam Alexander.
Nancy: Charity Wakefield.
Myers: Joseph May.
Franklin: Issy van Randwyck.
Osterberg: Clive Rowe.
Fried: John Guerrasio.
Lasker: Matthew Marsh.
Director: Edward Hall.
Designer: Francis O’Connor.
Lighting: Rick Fisher.
Sound: Matt McKenzie.
Composer: Simon Slater.