The problem with trying to replicate authentic boring pub dialogue is that, if it’s authentic, then it’s going to be boring. Unfortunately, Gordon Rider, the writer of The Three Kings which is, in truth, more sketch than play, falls into this trap. The point about theatre is that you cheat: OK so there are lots of pauses in authentic boring pub dialogue but generally they’re not all put in on stage otherwise the audience ends up wondering whether they are bona fide scripted pauses or whether the actors aren’t particularly hot on lines and cues. This is exacerbated when the pauses are as awkward as they are in the opening stages of this piece. Put in one pause and the audience, which generally consists of savvy, street-wise theatre-goers, will get it and understand that this is representative of authentic boring pub dialogue.
Much of the early humour, here, is lost because Director Andrew Bridgmont’s finger is constantly hovering over the pause button whilst the one-liners are straining at the leash to get out. There’s a great line in Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound: at the start of a play one Reviewer says to the other “What’s going on?”. Reviewer Two answers: “It’s a pause”. Outraged, Reviewer One replies: “You can’t start with a pause!”. And it’s true: you can’t.
Rider has a neat idea here but he’s stretched it to near breaking point. Two hard-hat wallahs are chatting, on Christmas Eve, about birthdays, and girlfriends, and holidays and … well, mainly about birthdays. Taking a circuitous route, the conversation becomes increasingly plausibly implausible and the absurdity is such that we start checking our Ionesco-Beckett privilege. Having got over those awkward pauses we’re thinking, now this is weirdly good, this is strangely funny but just as we’re getting into this quirky-yuletide-banter plot – enter barmaid pursued by an albatross. Yes, I know, this is weird as well, but it’s unnecessary, it’s an encumbrance to the simplicity of the plot. Vanessa-Faye Stanley does distracted, beer-dispensing, table-cleaning, church-going, wannabe performance artist well – but her flights of Coleridge-inspired fancy appear entirely irrelevant to the extraordinary coincidence that is playing out before us and her appearances increasingly become annoying interruptions.
It’s as if the playwright has thought “Well, we can’t just have two builders in a pub spouting authentic boring dialogue for the whole show so let’s… er … I know let’s get a fit young whimsical albatross-fancier in to distract the audience”. And distract us it did.
Our two navvies – Block and Tackle (there’s probably some American Football reference here though I didn’t get it: another irritating red herring) are performed authentically and at times a little boringly by Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Antony Eden. They’re good, but they’re not quite Carling, despite downing several pints of it during the show. Eden, in particular gives pukka builder-speak and effective bemused incredulity and is a dead ringer for my son’s brother-in law who also does authentic pub dialogue after a few pints which is much funnier than most of the lines Eden has to deliver here.
There was a good lunchtime crowd for the show, in the excellent downstairs studio/bar at the St James Theatre (opened in 2012 on the site of the former Westminster Theatre of Moral Rearmament fame) was nicely lit by Charlie Hodsdon and there were some speedy costume changes by Stanley, as barmaid Melanie, in doubling as the three delivery boys, presumably arriving at the pub respectively in taxi, car and on a scooter, hooting the hooter.
Overall I’m not sure anyone knows where they are going with this: rather than doggedly following a star it seems this is more like a perverse kind of Advent calendar where behind each door is an Escher puzzle picture which can only be resolved in the sequel “Three Kings Go Ape in Petra”.
There’s a certain charm about the piece but sketch-writing demands tighter scripting, ruthless editing and the discipline not to use an albatross when a sparrow will suffice. The message of this piece seems to be: We Three Kings of Orient Probably Might Be and the baby Jesus was NOT actually born in a manger but would probably have appreciated a slice of pizza.
There’s definitely season’s cheer here but ultimately it’s less Christmas cracker and more Christmas jumper.
Review by Peter Yates
Damont Productions present The Three Kings
A new play by Gordon Rider
Running Time: 35 mins approximately without an interval
(Strong language and adult themes. Recommended for ages 16+)
Christmas is with us once again and this year it comes with strong language and adult themes!
REJOICE in the quicksilver repartee of Block and Tackle as they lock horns (or is that antlers?) over love, life and the wonders of the totally unexpected!
Our boozing heroes have been work mates on the building site for the past nine months but on the eve of Christmas a revelation comes about that is to change their lives forever!
A hilarious and poignant new play by Gordon Rider, The Three Kings takes us on a journey from doubt to belief via the public bar of The Three Kings pub and a couple of packets of crisps. From the team that brought you The Golden Hour and Summer of Love.
Thomas Brodie Sangster (Game of Thrones, Love Actually, The Maze Runner) returns to the studio following his appearance in The Summer of Love to play the role of Tackle in the new Christmas themed comedy, with Antony Eden (Woman in Black) as Block and Vanessa-Faye Stanley (War Horse) as Melanie.
14th – 19th December 2015
ST. JAMES THEATRE
12 Palace Street,
London, SW1E 5JA.