THE FRIDA KAHLO OF PENGE WEST
by Chris Larner.
Rosemary Branch Theatre 2 Shepperton Road N1 3DT To 13 July 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 6pm.
Runs 1hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7704 2730.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 July.
Mild laughter in west Hackney.
Rumours of hilarity surrounded the opening of this show, but there’s little at the Rosemary Branch to substantiate the claim. Chris Larner’s intriguingly-titled play is a pleasant enough variation of the ‘odd couple’ pattern, involving Zoe, yearning after her publisher employer, and Ruth, a self-obsessive who listens to and so learns nothing from anyone else.
A successful actor in her own mind, Ruth works in a theatre ticket-booth, taking it upon herself to refuse tickets for shows she doesn’t like while dispensing loud and rapid opinions with the queue she so casually serves.
Laura Kirman brings a quiet sympathy to the under-assertive Zoe, which she later combines with visually outlandish appearances in other roles, while Cecily Nash’s Ruth is outlandish in manner from the outset.
Nash does well-enough with the one-trick character, especially in her opening patter, denouncing anyone queuing for shows which share the misfortune of not having her in the cast. It feels like an attitude Larner has met often enough and between them he and Nash turn it into the sole moment of hilarity in an otherwise gently amusing story.
As Ruth bundles herself and her predictable half a houseful of luggage into Zoe’s place and takes over her life the comedy and story stretch thin. A shorter (thankfully) second act shows the Frida Kahlo play Ruth’s engineered, into which she’s dragged her long-suffering friend.
A bright painted Mexican backdrop and outlandish appearances of Zoe as the capaciously-framed Diego Rivera and the fake-hirsute Trotsky in exile offer a new setting but still quite desperate attempts at humour. Though there’s enough slickness to impress audience members new to this kind of comedy, who all have a right to a laugh like anyone else. Again, it’s the offstage behaviour that’s most comically truthful, rather than effortful.
Finally, unsurprisingly, there’s a worm-turning, chickens home to roost reversal of fortunes, finally rendering Ruth quiet as she lies in bed. So a sort of justice is done for these characters. And the play fits well in a pub theatre. Drink from downstairs will oil the somewhat squeaky wheels of this upstairs comedy.
Zoe: Laura Kirman.
Ruth: Cecily Nash.
Director/Composer: Chris Larner.
Designer: Nina Patel-Grainger.
Lighting: Celia Degua.
Sound/Pianist: Oli Jackson.
Costume: Natalie Pryce.