I am not sure what Nobody’s Business is trying to be – a comedy play about how pride comes before a fall, or a political play, waxing lyrical about the stringent regulations that must be negotiated to access money from something called the EU Development Grant Funding Allocation. It only just about manages to be the former, and I am quite sure many in this cultured north London audience at the King’s Head were already aware that EU regulations can be onerous. In this case, why not? This is public money being spent on realising business ideas – money that could, in this day and age, otherwise be realised through crowdfunding or venture capital.
More than a few punchlines fall flat as the audience sees the eccentric caricatures of wacky inventors, all played by Jeremy Drakes, as peculiar rather than amusing. One of them is Mr Wildman by name and a wild man by nature. Their pitching of ideas to Hugo (Tristan Beint), a consultant (of what? We never find out!) broadly in the style of Dragons’ Den is tortuous, though perhaps this is deliberately so, to highlight the absurdity of the ideas some people have.
Far more hilarious (or, rather, hilarious at all) was the – presumably – unintentional collapsing of some cardboard boxes on two or three members of the audience sat nearest that section of the stage (this show is presented in the round). It is left to Claire Jeater’s Imogen, apparently Hugo’s girlfriend, to finally free the laps and legs of those seated stage-side. She does so within seconds of returning to the stage: it is just as well that Jeater’s character seems by far the most level-headed of the lot.
All this is not helped by some random musical interludes between scenes, involving quirky dance moves that, as far as I can tell, were unconnected to the narrative. The scene changes therefore took significantly longer than they should have done, while we watch the company prattle across the stage. Sad to say, but I came away thinking that the odd inventions being paraded were a metaphor for the show – there were elements of brilliance but ultimately the dialogue could do with a lot more work.
A board meeting, too, is about as riveting as a board meeting could be expected to be (that is, not very). “It just doesn’t work,” says Hugo of The Shopalong, a motorised shopping trolley. “It’s a failure.” I might say the same thing of this play. There are, however, some decent performances from Stephen Oswald, playing a nervous premises manager, and Katy Manning, as Sybil Cleaver, the business centre’s concierge who sets up her own company and rises to the top through assertiveness and brown-nosing certain clients.
Still, the lack of chemistry between Hugo and Imogen fails to convince that they are in any sort of personal relationship. And every time Sybil’s name is called out loudly – which is quite often – I can’t help but think of BBC Television’s Fawlty Towers. This production isn’t half as good as that one. I did feel for the cast. It can’t be easy delivering punchline after punchline and not getting much back.
The King’s Head normally does so much better than this. The show does, at least, demonstrate that it is unwise to judge a book by its cover. It’s entirely possible to go from concierge to chief executive through hard work and determination.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Sybil, much-married caretaker of a business centre, is full of ideas for escaping from her situation. When Hugo a manipulative adventurer launches a new business she inveigles her way in, getting herself appointed director of a company set up for Perkins an inventor, along with Hugo’s long-suffering artist girlfriend Imogen and Howard the manager of the centre whose significant other is his dog. With a woman in a kangaroo suit trying to sell an uncontrollable invention and a dog on the company board, what happens next is nobody’s business.
Katy Manning (Sybil) is probably most famous for her TV work (including a three year stint as Doctor Who’s assistant), but has also performed numerous stage roles, ranging from work at Sydney Opera House through to the Young Vic.
Playwright Sylvia Freedman has had a wide-ranging, critically acclaimed career, and has presented new work at Watford Palace Theatre, the Orange Tree, Lyric Hammersmith and the King’s Head Theatre.
Director John Adams co-founded Paines Plough, Britain’s leading independent new writing company, with the writer David Pownall, being its Artistic Director for 6 years. John has since been Artistic Director of three regional theatre companies: the Octagon Bolton, the Birmingham Rep, and the Haymarket Basingstoke. He has directed first productions of plays by Anthony Minghella, Stephen Jeffreys, Terry Johnson, David Lodge and Derek Lister, and new musical Tomorrowland at the Noviy Opera in Moscow.
by Sylvia Freedman
Directed by John Adams
Starring Katy Manning as Sybil
30th September – 24th October 2015
The King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN