‘Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor’s life for me’ – goes the song and, let’s be honest who hasn’t dreamed of being a well-respected – and equally well remunerated – thespian? You only have to work a couple of hours a night and you get to go to parties where people mention your name in the same exalted tones they use for Johnny and dear, dear, Larry. The reality of life for an actor is different of course but hopefully not as different as that portrayed in Daniel Spicer’s “STOP! The Play” which has just opened at Trafalgar Studios.
The first act opens in a rehearsal room where Production Assistant/ Stage Manager, and general dogsbody, Chrissie (Charlie Cameron) is setting up for the arrival of the actors – vain, self-absorbed and wanting the limelight for himself leading man Hugh (Adam Riches) and young, naive, and highly enthusiastic about everything Gemma (Hatty Preston) – who are rehearsing a new play, ‘The Dark Heart of Art’ by an ‘esteemed’ playwright. As the rehearsal starts on what appears to be a potentially lavish production, complete with pet monkey, the two actors are obviously getting into their respective roles when, with a shout of ‘STOP!’ the Director, Evelyn (Ben Starr) bounds onto the stage to give them some notes. Evelyn has a simple way of directing really, if asked a question about anything, his stock answer is ‘it’s in the script’
As we move forward with the rehearsal period – punctuated by re-writes of the script from a writer nobody ever sees – the play changes direction. Originally very worthy, if slightly dull, kitchen sink tale of a struggling artist, it morphs into a sexually charged pseudo-psycho drama now called ‘Banksy Ain’t Gay’. This causes problems for not only Hugh and Gemma – who rarely seem to have the latest edition of the script – but for the other actors, Linda (Hanna Stokely) and Walter (James Woolley) who find their lines and characters altered beyond all recognition and even a completely new actor – Kryston (Charlie Cameron) added to the cast at pretty much the last minute. Still, they are all professionals and can cope with anything can’t they?
I am avoiding telling you anything about the second act of the play because I really think that it is something that has to be experienced and even if I was Shakespeare himself I would not have the words to adequately describe the, never stopping to pause for breath for a moment, action that hysterically unfolds in front of the audience.
I think, like most of the audience I was laughing from the start of “STOP! The Play” until the final curtain call. David Spicer has put together a truly wicked look at the perils of being an actor in a play that just isn’t working, which I think will be familiar to anyone that has ever had anything to do with the theatre at any level. John Schwab’s direction is spot on and really makes the audience part of the action as the actors inhabit their roles as actors and players in the doomed production.
Every member of the amazing cast was superb and really brought their own character – and those in the play within a play – to life brilliantly. Adam Riches managed to make Hugh instantly dislikeable as he attempted to dominate production, throwing a fabulous hissy fit when his role changed beyond all recognition and more importantly introducing me to the weirdest pronunciation of the word “character” I’ve ever heard. Hatty Preston’s Gemma was the perfect foil for Hugh with her really irritating brand of optimism and flexibility to work with whatever is in the latest rewrite, no matter how extreme, even though she becomes increasingly discomforted by the direction the play is taking. Hanna Stokely portrays Linda as an actress that has pretty much seen it all before. With a lovely skill for delivering snide remarks about everyone and everything sotto voice, Linda is a real actor’s actor. However, my favourite character of all was James Woolley whose portrayal of a slightly dotty, actor near the end of his career really stole the show for me. Both in its writing and in its execution, Walter was such a marvelous character who you just know would be marvelous to go out for a post-show drink with and would keep the company entertained with his wonderful anecdotes of a life in the theatre. Whether you would want to actually be in a play with him is another question.
I’m also going to give a quick shout out to the lighting, designed by Catherine Webb, which is almost a new cast member in the second act and actually, along with Ben Starr’s increasingly manic performance as Evelyn, gets some of the funniest bits of the action.
To sum up then, “STOP! The Play” is a lovely backstage comedy/farce that is really well observed and delivers knock-out humour from start to finish. I left the theatre laughing and was sat chuckling on the bus over remembered bits as I headed home – more than ever wanting to be an actor.
Review by Terry Eastham
Stop – The Play
Hatch It (who are the former Reduced Shakespeare Company members, John Schwab and Tim Beckmann) are delighted to be presenting the world premiere of David Spicer’s madcap, theatrical comedy.
The first half is set in the rehearsal room, as five neurotic actors, one inexperienced director and an overworked stage manager, battle with the task of mounting what is surely the world’s most terrible play. The second half is the hysterically chaotic first night. The laughs come thick and fast as the worst night in the theatre becomes the most hilarious play in town.
With Adam Riches (2011 Edinburgh Perrier Comedy Award winner) as The Leading Man, Tosin Cole (Hollyoaks) as The Hollywood Cameo, Hatty Preston (The Royals) as The Leading Lady, Hannah Stokely (Skyfall) as The Perennial Co-star, Charlie Cameron (National Theatre Macbeth) as The Stage Manager, Ben Starr (Survivor) as The Director and James Woolley.
The play contains adult language and sexual themes. The performance includes strobe lighting and a loud gunshot.
STOP! The Play
Trafalgar Studio 2
Tuesday 2nd June to Saturday 27th June 2015.
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.45pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 3.00pm
Thursday 4th June 2015