I am in total awe of writers. Not people like me that can type out a few hundred words about something they saw last night, but real writers. The ones that can create an entire world with their words. So, it’s really great to be in at the start so to speak and see new writing brought to life. This is exactly what has been happening at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington with their presentation “The Hotel Room” described as ‘two plays, two crimes, one room’
The first play “Criminal Behaviour” by Ben Worth, literally explodes into life as Sully (Jake Mann) burst through the door in a rather dingy hotel room. Dressed head to foot in black and with a horrific gash on his, leg, Sully sets about sorting out his wound Shortly after this, Mickey (Oliver Geraghty-Gower) arrives. He too is dressed in black but with the addition of a balaclava which seems to be holding his dislocated jaw in place. Unfortunately, this means that virtually everything Mickey says is pretty much unintelligible. More MASH style triage occurs as Sully re-sets Mickey’s jaw giving him, and the audience immediate relief as Mickey’s words start to flow. The two boys are a team of burglars – Sully obviously in charge and Mickey the semi-literate sidekick – and have just been on a job that has gone horribly wrong. Now, the lads work for a pretty ruthless ‘Mr Big’ type character who is not happy that they are not able to deliver the loot he sent them for. Enter Tony (Dan Godward), a villain of the old school, who wants to get to the bottom of things. Intimidating from the moment he enters, Tony basically manages to scare the bejesus out of our two ‘heroes’ to the point where Mickey does something rather drastic because, as he puts it, ‘I ain’t any man’s bacon sandwich’, leading to an amazing plot with so many twists it might well be based on a pig’s tail.
“Criminal Behaviour” was a well written and acted piece that contained some wonderful one-liners and produced some pretty impressive surprises during its one hour running time. I loved the idea of Mickey sitting on the bus in his balaclava feeling secure because, as he explains to Sully ‘It’s London mate, no-one talks to each other on buses!’ The relationship between Mickey and Sully worked perfectly and you could imagine that they were a sort of human manifestation of ‘Pinky and the Brain’ in the way they worked together. Dan Goodward’s Tony was nicely done, gravelly voice and menacing personality, telling a heart-warming story of his childhood to the boys building the tension before he got down to the real business of the day and overall, I really liked this piece.
After the interval, we were back in the same room for “Undercover” where Murray (Oliver Towse) and Conor (Stuart Vincent) two undercover police officers preparing to meet a gun dealer, Paddy (Hannah McClean), in a classic sting operation, are talking about the Oscars. Their task is simple enough, catch the bad guy who wants to buy guns but things start to go wrong when a hotel maid (Jeylan Sannah) with a dodgy accent and a job on the side, Frank (Jamie Coleman) a married man on the lookout for a spot of afternoon delight and the vengeful speeder Richard (Elliot Thomas) are thrown into the mix. To be fair to the others, the whole thing was probably doomed to failure as Murray and Conor are pretty much the Laurel and Hardy of undercover policemen, more interested in Robert De Niro impressions than remembering their cover stories. The one person that is able to keep everything together is the arms dealer, Paddy, who – quickly sussing out the guys – manages to be both resourceful and ruthless, willing to do whatever is necessary to complete the deal and get what she wants, even putting aside her own personal anguish as certain elements appear to throw her off course. Will the Police triumph? Will Paddy? Will Frank get his fun? Once more there are twists and turns aplenty as we gallop to the finishing post.
It is a long time since I have seen something approaching the old Whitehall Farces but “Undercover” comes very close to bringing that style of theatre back to life. Yes, there were plot holes – let’s be honest the two policemen wouldn’t have been permitted to conduct children over a zebra crossing let alone set up and run an undercover sting operation – but there were laughs aplenty in the work by writer Ed Harland. I really enjoyed this piece – not least because the Maid tried to straighten one of the pictures on the wall – and could easily see it being developed further. The actors worked well together, particularly Oliver and Stuart as the hapless policemen and I thought that Hanna McClean gave a stand-out performance as Paddy.
All told “The Hotel Room” was a really great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Good writing and acting gave me entertainment and proved that once again, the London fringe can produce some great works from up and coming writers. The White Bear theatre has a reputation for being ‘South London’s new writing powerhouse’ and based on “The Hotel Room” I have to agree.
Review by Terry Eastham
Monday 1st June 2015