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BRIAN & ROGER – A Highly Offensive Play

It is, I assume, reasonable to expect a show billed as “a highly offensive play” to be, well, highly offensive. As there is a distinct lack of offensiveness, is that itself offensive? Or is it only offensive to so-called ‘snowflakes’ who get upset about very inconsequential matters and want to take legal action against their supermarket because their preferred variety of apple wasn’t available the last time they visited? Brian & Roger has a highly contrived storyline, though it seems to revel in quite how absurd it can be.

BRIAN & ROGER - A Highly Offensive Play - Credit Nobby Clark.
BRIAN & ROGER – A Highly Offensive Play – Credit Nobby Clark.

I wasn’t nearly as amused by what was going on as people around me in the press night audience – the show has a certain style of humour, largely centred around Roger (Dan Skinner) being taken advantage of by his friend Brian (Simon Lipkin). The latter has the gift of the gab, and there’s a mixture of naivety and misfortune on the part of the former: I suppose Brian is the equivalent of Morecambe and Roger the equivalent of Wise.

Except Brian & Roger’s humour is edgier. For all the talk of lighting design in theatre productions, the lights go out completely for several minutes. Perhaps it was an ode to the audio-only podcast from which this show materialised, and/or to shield the audience from the most gruesome aspect of the plot. Had it been more visible, there would have been more of a shock factor. It is, at worst, unkind, although it plays to the gallery in its exaggerations – a trip to China, for instance, results in a journey meant to last four days by donkey, in a country that has an extensive road network and more reliable trains than Britain (admittedly, that is not exactly difficult).

Set in 2011, Brian and Roger meet in the first place at a support group. I can’t recall what it was called so I’m calling it Divorcees Anonymous. There’s very little in the way of dialogue throughout, as the vast majority of scenes comprise telephone voicemail messages going back and forth, even when they are in the same building. The commitment to communicating by telephony extends to an overseas flight, with Brian in First Class and Roger in (what I call) Cattle Class, which for some reason much of the audience chortled at, as though they were enjoying witnessing inequalities and Roger being treated unkindly. Worse was to come for poor Roger, as Brian seeks, relentlessly, to get him to do all his dirty work for him.

It’s disappointingly tame (The Book of Mormon, for instance, rocks the boat considerably more), and distinctly inoffensive. Neither character grows, nor learns much – if anything – from their experiences, of which there are plenty, which makes them both consistent, but also somewhat one-dimensional. There are some redeeming features – extensive use of video projections and still images to denote time and place works well, and the costume department has also done brilliantly.

Just about sufficiently maintaining interest through an increasingly absurd story, there is some relatability in Roger’s struggle to make ends meet. And both actors were evidently enjoying themselves in this production, which is always good to see.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Brian and Roger met at a support group for recently divorced men. Roger was attending because he was genuinely grieving the loss of his marriage. Brian was instructed to attend by his solicitor if he wanted to dodge paying alimony. Roger is in need of guidance and support, which Brian willingly supplies. Both are starting again. Both are finding it hard. One of them is nice.

BRIAN & ROGER – A Highly Offensive Play
THE MIXING ROOM CAST & CREATIVES
Written by Harry Peacock and Dan Skinner
Direction David Babani
Performed by Simon Lipkin and Dan Skinner
Set and Costume Design Robert Jones
Lighting Design Paul Anderson
Sound Design Gregory Clarke
Projection Design Tim Bird

22nd October 2021 – 18th December 2021
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, including a 15-minute interval.
Book Tickets from £9.00
https://www.menierchocolatefactory.com/

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