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Never Trust a Man Bun at Stockwell Playhouse

Never Trust a Man BunLucy, the protagonist of Katherine Thomas’ one-act comedy of modern manners (also played by Katherine Thomas), extols the delights of Gogglebox viewed in familiar comfort with an old friend. Unfortunately, the story-telling and comic delivery of Never Trust a Man Bun pale compared to Channel 4’s now famous low-budget clip-show. As a performer-playwright making her professional theatre debut this week at The Stockwell Playhouse, Thomas’ ambition in her undertaking is admirable, but she has much work to do to move beyond student standards and justify asking each audience member to pay more than the living wage for an hour of her writing.

Like Gogglebox, Never Trust a Man Bun relies on familiar small-screen devices: unremarkable people make predictably withering remarks that occasionally elicit a laugh. Unfortunately, unlike the formulaic single-angle review show, this play is more than 50 minutes long and doesn’t modulate its tone or offer an escape from its single tedious note. Despite a series of entrances and exits from the other members of the cast who join Lucy, starting with Gus (Calum Robshaw) and Rachael (Natasha Grace Hutt) followed by man-bun-sporting Caps (Jack Forsyth Noble), the energy never changes.

Lucy continues to make wisecracks at the expense of everyone, including her ‘best friend’ Gus, whilst his girlfriend Rachael remains implausibly two-dimensionally stupid (a ‘ditsy blond’ straight from Sexist Central Casting with no irony nor plausibility). Although there are snatches of vulnerability and remorse in Thomas’ naturalistic small-screen style portrayal, her more truthful moments are at odds with the broad, quasi-farcical stylings of Gus and Rachael. Meanwhile, the Man-Bun himself, Caps, is offered little more opportunity than as prop. Lucy’s awkward choice of offensive language is not shocking but simply gauche and cringe-making when characters embark on a brief dalliance with deconstruction but then they simply abandon that thread for another sit-com cliché, like burning the dinner. In fact, much of the dialogue toys with, but then retreats from, making a point – whilst ducking its comic or dramatic potential. We are most certainly NOT invited to Abigail’s Party.

There is nothing wrong with Katherine Thomas wishing to create a domestic dramedy using a simple and predictable 20-something shared flat setting. However, she needs to do more than think about her set-up. She owes it to her audience, and her own theatrical development, to push past satisfaction with the odd ‘meme-able’ line and locate the truth of her characters and ensure they experience some kind of change. This production feels juvenile not because of the youth of its cast but because its material is dramatically immature. Scott Le Crass’ direction sadly only echoes this weak script, offering no interrogation or further layers.

Thomas must redouble her efforts if she is to succeed as an author. At this stage of her development, her characters feel like they come from a series of pilot episodes of 70s British sit-coms that never went to series. Her dialogue sounds like a Facebook exchange between self-important high schoolers and not someone who is aching to hone her ear. However, Thomas succeeds in building her world very quickly and offers a serviceable acting performance herself. But that’s not what she signed up for when staging a professional production; it’s not good enough and she needs to do more.

Publicists may rejoice with such a promotable phrase as ‘Never Trust a Man Bun’ but Thomas needs to murder her darlings and quick. The theatre needs new writers and actors and any effort to move the form forward is commendable – but, in this instance, this particular young writer and her cast need to spend more time beholding what makes theatre and live performance transcendent and step away from their goggle boxes.

2 gold stars

Review by Mary Beer

24-year-old Lucy’s idea of a good night is binge-watching Goggle Box, eating leftover bolognese and mocking the contestants on talent shows with her flatmate Gus. So, when Lucy gets back from work one night, only to find that Gus has gotten back together with his ditsy ex-girlfriend Rachael and that they have decided to hold a double date that night, Lucy is far from pleased. However, what she doesn’t expect is her hot date is coming in with a game plan, one which surely cannot end well. Katherine Thomas’ professional writing debut is a dramatic, dry comedy with hidden motives and self-destruction.

Creative Team:
Producer- Chidell Productions
Director- Scott Le Crass
Writer- Katherine Thomas
PR – Jamie Eastlake

Cast:
Calum Robshaw
Jack Forsyth-Noble
Katherine Thomas
Natasha Grace Hutt
http://www.stockwellph.com/

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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