by Neil Fleming.

Theatre 503 above The Latchmere Pub 503 Battersea Park Road SW11 3BW To 16 April 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.

TIXKETS: 020 7978 7040.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 March.

Smart, if limited, look at a world of advice without responsibility.
As high-gloss as the shiny black floor of Geoff Church’s confident production, Neil Fleming’s play latches on to the leeches known as consultants, who charge huge sums to give advice, most of which any competent person could work out themselves. But consultants offer reassurance and insurance; if things go wrong, it’s some other expert’s fault – who will have cleared off by then.

They work through fear – instilling it to make their invoices seem necessary, or soothing it with the sense they can help overcome any threat. In the upper echelons of consultation, it’s necessary to bamboozle and convince by force of personality. Which is where consultant James Brown succeeds, turning his wheelchair to good use in meeting Hugo Shackleton, whose happy little business makes medical equipment.

Worming his way into this healthy family business, Brown creates anxiety, providing confidence and power, sweeping Hugo into his slipstream of certainty. Even when demonstrating the futility of aiming for the impossible by trying to lift himself from his wheelchair, Brown’s manipulating his audience. His associate Nicola uses a seductive physicality, while she’s denying there’s any sexual element in her approach.

Brown exploits Nicola, who knows the game. Pip Donaghy’s intensity, in overcoming attacks of pain or humiliating her, is that of missionary and manipulator. And when he explains a deception to Hugo, the truth beneath turns out a new level of lie.

Helen Millar’s svelte suavity transfer smoothly from image to pent-up annoyance, contrasted by the genuine anxiety Sian Webber shows as Hugo’s wife, a doctor concerned at her husband, and their business, becoming caught in James Brown’s body of deceit.

James Wilby is a fine picture of honest doubt caught in the unfamiliar rush of certainty surrounding Brown, while Webber’s Claire, unaffected by consultancy glamour, becomes a no-nonsense good angel to their Machiavellian machinations.

In configuring a Faustian parallel, evident anyway in the situation, Fleming doesn’t pursue the actual techniques as far as he might. Yet they are the actions making the larger issue evident. And Brown is top-end charlatanism; there’s surely more to his armoury than here meets the audience’s eye.

Hugo Shackleton: James Wilby.
James Brown: Pip Donaghy.
Claire Shackleton: Sian Webber.
Nicola Patchett: Helen Millar.

Director: Geoff Church.
Designer: Agnes Treplin.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Nick Parkin.
Assistant director: Laurence Chater.

2011-04-03 14:23:44

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