All New People, following an evening in the company of four mismatched no-hopers, is set in the dead of winter on a deserted Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Zach Braff’s dark comedy, directed by Peter DuBois, is an onslaught of wit, awkward humour and dim-witted farce.
This was my first visit to the Duke of York’s Theatre since Phantom of the Opera several years ago, and the atmosphere on entering could not have been more different. The broken chandelier had been replaced with a vintage record player standing open at the front of the stage, while silent snow fell on a huge projection screen from the flies down to the stage. An Indie soundtrack worthy of any Scrubs episode played at pub volume, adding to the excited hum of the audience who packed in steadily.
I’ll admit to catching my breath as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers faded out into an Irish Jig, the lights went down and the gentle snow began to rapidly reverse itself. A sudden light change and we’re brought straight into the action with Charlie, our miserable main character played by Braff himself, atop a stool with a cigarette in his mouth and a noose around his neck. A telephone conversation is heard from outside the front door and our first visitor, Emma, played with great energy and timing by Eve Myles, enters to quite a shock. She is an illegal English immigrant with a dark secret, a taste for marijuana and not much luck.
As the play progresses, we’re introduced to each new character. Ex-drama teacher Myron, now a fireman/drug dealer, arrives first. Paul Hilton gives a great performance in the role and demonstrates perhaps more than any other character the shedding of his outer armour. He is swiftly followed by Kim, an escort and Charlie’s birthday present. She is adorable, ditzy but not a clichéd dumb blonde. This is due to Susannah Fielding’s committed and honest portrayal of her.
We spend the next hour or so in a drug- and alcohol-infused haze, liberally smattered with laugh-out-loud moments of physical comedy and one-liners. We enjoy getting to know these four strangers as they explore themselves, each other and their views on sex, religion and politics (all the best ingredients for non-PC banter in my opinion).
Despite the jokes, shaky Shakespeare speeches and a sweet ditty on a ukulele, the party deteriorates and the mood becomes a lot darker. A gut-wrenching monologue by Braff is a real highlight of the play. I had goosebumps.
A nice touch between discussions was the use of the screen, and each character had a short film interlude to explain their backstory. My seat was at the back of the stalls and small screens were set up towards the back of this section for those with limited view seats.
Overall, All New People is a very well-written and well-executed play and thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end. The creative team and cast have managed to strike a great balance between silliness and poignancy, which fans of Scrubs and The Garden State, as well as new audiences, will certainly not be disappointed in.
All New People Review by Charlotte McNichol
25th March 2012