Banging Denmark by Van Badham at Finborough Theatre

How refreshing to come across a ‘new’ play (it was first seen in Australia in 2019, but this is its European premiere) which is a feisty twenty-first-century updating of the genre known as ‘light comedy’ (Frederic Lonsdale’s On Approval comes to mind!). Not only that, but Van Badham’s play is not just amusing, it is also at times very funny. In fact, it is the more serious scenes that are the least believable owing to the dialogue appearing a little stilted. But fear not, there are a few of these!! For most of the 100 minutes running time, especially in the central duologue scenes, comedy, however outrageous, reigns!

Tom Kay and Rebecca Blackstone. Banging Denmark. Credit Ali Wright.
Tom Kay and Rebecca Blackstone. Banging Denmark. Credit Ali Wright.

We are told that the play takes place in “a city of such a size that it contains both a university and a library“. Friendless management consultant Jake (Tom Kay) has a lucrative gig as a misogynist podcaster and pick-up artist (one who coaxes women into having sex with them through flattery, manipulation and coercion), until his latest crush, gorgeous blonde Danish librarian Anne ( Maja Simonsen) fails to fall for his usual ‘spiel’. So he makes an ‘offer she cannot refuse’ to Ishtar (Rebecca Blackstone), a broke, feminist academic, to advise him how best to infiltrate Anne’s no-nonsense mind.

Then there is the sub-plot between Denyse (Jodie Tyack), Ishtar’s friend, and Toby (James Jip)…

The three women have the most interesting and fully developed roles. Simonsen is superbly cool as librarian Anne, all the while caressing her rare books and dressed (costume designer Leah Kelly) to kill in silky light cream! Blackstone is suitably larger than life with a great deal of physical energy as Ishtar, making the most of her hate/love relationship with Jake as well as relishing the hilarious situations and lines she is given. Tyack is an excellent foil to her, bringing out the youthfulness and innocence of her character and using facial expressions and her hair with great effect to achieve maximum comic effect.

Kay’s role as Jake is more difficult to play as he appears just to be a two-dimensional sexual predator, but he is a subtle enough actor gradually to bring out the hidden depths of this role. It is a shame that James Jip as Toby is not given more to do by the playwright: his role seems to exist for the purpose of giving Denyse someone to talk to!

Sally Woodcock’s direction gives the play great energy, as well as bringing out the humour that continually bubbles to the surface. She ensures that each scene flows smoothly into each other even if she cannot quite conceal the fact that some of the dialogue in the few ‘serious’ scenes does not sound convincing. It is as if the playwright could not bring herself to write a true ‘light comedy’ but thought she ought to make a few social points!

The plain grey set is by Katy Mo and Leah Kelly with unobtrusive, and therefore excellent, lighting design by Richard Williamson. It is a shame that the enunciation on the voiceovers for Jake’s blog is not clearer (sound design Ed Lewis) but overall this is yet another successful production from the Finborough.

As I intimated at the top of this review, Van Badham’s play is a breath of fresh air – it is amusing throughout and often very, very funny indeed! If only more C21 playwrights would turn their hand to comedy!!!

Highly recommended: you will be very difficult to please if you do not laugh loud and long!!!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Management consultant Jake is high on life, with a lucrative side gig as a misogynist podcaster and pick-up artist. Until his latest crush – gorgeous Danish librarian Anne – fails to fall for his usual ‘game’.

Undeterred, he makes Ishtar a cash offer she surely can’t refuse to advise him how best to infiltrate Anne’s no-nonsense feminist mind.

But for Ish to accept such a deal from Jake – of all people – she would be selling her soul. Wouldn’t she?

This explicit and badly behaved satire of modern manners sees Ish, Jake, their friends and a stranger navigate the battle-of-the-sexes (and the sexless).

No one will emerge unscathed…

by Van Badham
Tuesday, 16 April – Saturday, 11 May 2024

1 thought on “Banging Denmark by Van Badham at Finborough Theatre”

  1. ‘Banging Denmark’ is hilarious and topical, in a cleverly satirical way. This production deserves a transfer to a larger venue, like the new Kings Head or Southwark Playhouse. We all left the theatre smiling.

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