The Play with Speeches by James Woolf. The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 to 4 March 2023. 3***. William Russell.

Olive & Stavros, the producers of this very funny but patchy comedy by James Woolf believe it has a future and are seeking producers and like minded creatives to discuss how best to bring it to new audiences. One wishes them good luck – but it does need a hard look at the way the evening is constructed. The premise is simple. Anthony, the writer, and Penny, the director are holding auditions for their new play and by accident the theatre in which they are being held has sold seats to watch. It is not a play about auditions, the scripts each actor gets to read makes up the play it seems. The would be cast members come in and read speeches from plays chosen by Anthony which add up to a story line. Lots of the laughs come from the fact that Anthony, played with manifest relish by Matthew Parker, is a high camp conceited queen who used to be – and this just does not work – in a relationship with the director Penny (Katherine Reilly). A couple they do not make. Penny does come into her own in Act Two when she finally gets to show she has a mind of her own and auditions Anthony for his own part in his own play giving it instead to Lionel (Michael Perimutter), the handsome hunk who has come to audition. It needs a good hard look at the jokes, a better definition for the various actors who audition, although their scenes are all nicely enough done, and whether the breaking of the fourth wall is worth doing needs to be looked at. The scripts they deliver combine into some sort of tale of infidelity and people in comas in hospital but it is not all that gripping.

After a distinctly sticky start, however, the laughs started flowing once the lady from the audience was brought on to fill in for a missing auditioner. Director Katherine Reilly and her co director Ursula Campbell manage to keep things charging along at the necessary speed after that but, funny or not, when push comes to shove Anthony becomes tiresome in spite of Matthew Parker’s energectic efforts to make us root for him. Olive & Stavros do have a play on their hands which deserves a longer life although I am not sure it addresses important contemporary topics, one of their avowed intentions, and if this is the rewritten version – it was staged at the Jack last autumn when I was on holiday – then that work is not finished.

Matthew Parker: Anthony.

Katherine Reilly: Penny.

Jumaane Brown: Nick.

Mark Parsons: Felix.

Mayuresh Mishra: Darren.

Anna Blackburn: Bambina.

Camilia O’Grady: Alice.

Ursula Campbell: Michaela.

Michael Perimutter: Lionel.

Directors: Katherine Reilly & Ursula Campbell.

Lighting Design: Nick Peel.

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