The agent is not the most obvious material for a central stage role. True, the best-selling American author Harlan Coben turned his fictitious Myron Bolitar into a popular hero by showing us the trials of a sports agent trying to manage the demands of his competitive clientele while also making a decent living from them. It’s a daring sort of promotion, making a substantial presence of a figure normally only seen side-on through the prism of his more public charges.
In her debut play, author Selina Giles has sailed right into the eye of a comparable storm with her closeup study of Bolitar’s theatrical counterpart. Just as Coben knew what he was talking about by having been a basketball player, so Giles knows her terrain through a successful career as a stage and screen actor. Unforgiving terrain it is too, with Stephen Lacey’s office being frequented, invaded even, by hopeless hopefuls and dogged has-beens. The spectacle, treated here with an almost documentary accuracy, verges on the tragic. It is only pulled back from the further reaches of bleakness by being comedic, richly so, at the same time. The actors on his books have a fearsome dependence on his prowess, but also a deep-seated hurt that he seems unable to care about them as passionately as they care about themselves.
Through these interactions, something else begins to happen as the supporting-role life of the agent turns into the object of our focus. It is an irony that dawns slowly as Mark Griffin’s slightly sinister underplaying of Lacey turns the man from jumped-up walk-on to main event. Heavens, he is even upstaging his actors, unbeknown to them, in the performing of his duties. The staff of his “empire” is so skeletal – consisting of nothing more than Craig Manners’ gloriously camp Craig – that when he apparently puts his callers through to the “legal department” with a few convincing switchboard clicks, it is him again, putting on a Scots accent. This is the show, and the question of whether, and how, he will be able to keep it on the road is the matter in hand.
At least, one of the matters in hand. There’s an awful lot of other stuff going on. One of his clients, Billy Lean is getting some of the most stinking reviews you’ve ever heard from an attack-dog critic hiding behind a maddening online anonymity. Why these levels of bile? Billy’s not that bad, is he. Gullible for sure, taking Lacey’s advice about endearing himself with casting agents far too literally.
And who is this Shelly Long creature, delightfully inhabited by Giles herself, back over from a West Coast life of excess, amorous and otherwise, followed by twelve-step recovery? Her past seems so, literally, embedded, with both Lacey’s and Billy’s. And lastly, although not quite, what on earth is going on with the script submitted, pseudonymously, to the agency? Why does the reading of it cause Lacey quite such acute discomfort? All I can say is that all is resolved, at least in a plotting sense, in what turns into a wonderfully quirky whydunnit.
There is a possibility of Simon Fellows’ well-paced production going elsewhere at the end of this week-long stint at The Arts, as it deserves to. Fine cameos -and-more from Malcolm Freeman’s resigned old-stager Casper and Lisa Gorgin’s desperate Lilly. Muted hilarity from Christien Anholt’s Billy, whose scene with the returning Shelly is the unexpected heart of this bold venture, touching as it does on the addictive components in their respective plights, professional and personal. When she was struggling with her proverbial demons in the States, she would very likely have heard her mentors urging her to risk and trust. She and her creator, who also produced the show, have taken a leaf out of each other’s book.
Review by Alan Franks
Note: The Adventures of Wendy Howard-Watt, written by Alan Franks, is published this month (January 2016) by Muswell Press.
The Two Faces of Agent Lacey is a play about theatrical agent Stephen Lacey and the relationships he has with his clients.
Many of them struggling with disillusionment in their acting careers, work anxiety, and personal economic insecurity. The successful relationships he’s built with his clients over time are built on trust, and good business advice. With the ever increasing presence of social media forcing a different approach to business,
Lacey and his actors navigate their way into the twenty-first century in an attempt to utilise what twitter and its ugly sisters have to offer.
On the outside he plays his role of agent, friend, mentor and some time therapist with great conviction. On the inside it is a very different story. His long time client, the Palme D’or nominated Billy Lean is having a difficult time getting work and his jobbing theatre roles are tainted by some ever spiteful reviews thus dragging Billy down further into a pit of desperation.
Agent Lacey is forced to address his own corrosive part in his clients troubles when an ex girlfriend shows up keen to stage the story of their past. Having rehabilitated her own life she is determined to get those she was once close with to do the same. By turning her past into a stage play, how much does she blur the lines of fiction and reality? Is all memory just subjective? Her visit dictates that Lacey face some uncomfortable truths, setting both himself and Billy Lean free on to a clearer collaborative future path.
A new play of Selina Giles
Director Simon Fellows
Mark Griffin – Stephen Lacey
Phillipa Peak – Carrie Ann Pitt
Marie Francoise Wolf – Clara Lloyd
Malcolm Freeman – Casper Gray
Christien Anholt – Billy Lean
Tom Holloway- Craig Manners
Lisa Gorgin – Lilly White
Selina Giles – Shelly Long/ producer/ writer.
Jennifer Hanah – Joy Small
Directed by Simon Fellows
Set Design – Simon Fellows
Mel Berry – sound and light tech
Performances: Monday 4th Jan 2016 – Saturday 9th Jan 2016 at 7.45pm