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Review of Gift Of The Gab at the White Bear Theatre

GIFT GAB Ross Boatman GABE Madalina Bellariu CONCETTA Photo AL
Gift of the Gab: Ross Boatman GABE Madalina Bellariu CONCETTA Photo AL

The first thing that grabs your attention as you enter the tiny space that is the White Bear Theatre above a pub in Kennington is Sim E Sigh’s amazing set for Simon David Eden’s latest play Gift Of The Gab. You immediately feel that you’re looking right at Rizzini’s, a greasy spoon cafe (or should that be caff) in Brighton in 1979. The attention to detail is spot-on down to the Formica table, mis-spelt menu board and pickled eggs in a jar. You can almost feel the damp on the walls and the smell of bacon grease and stale cigarettes. After absorbing this feast for the eyes, the metaphorical curtain rises, and Gabe, Arthur and Stan enter. These are three con men whose modus operandi is to knock on people’s doors pretending that they’re insurance salesmen and after gaining the confidence of their potential marks, are invited in for a cup of tea and case the joint. Then if there’s anything worth stealing, they pass that information on to some thieves and take a cut of the proceedings. It’s a clever con but these three have been at it for a long time and don’t seem to be making much money from it.

In the cafe, they’re joined by young Winkle, who’s being taught the ropes by his Uncle Gabe. Winkle’s not the sharpest tool in the box and doesn’t really want to get involved in this old-fashioned con trick. As they sit in the cafe, eating toast, drinking tea, and chewing the fat, they’re served by Concetta, a young, pretty Italian waitress who’s the daughter of Ric Rizzini, the owner of the establishment.

The first act is mainly the four men talking about the strikes, for this is the winter of discontent, shoes, the upcoming Sale of Goods Act and arguing about nothing in particular. They’re eventually joined by Ric and we soon learn that his wife has left him so he’s very protective of Concetta who seems to be attracted to Winkle as they’re about the same age.

If that sounds like there isn’t much of a plot, well in the first act there isn’t. There’s a lot of Tantantinoesque dialogue with conversations that go off on odd tangents and there’s non-sequiturs galore, but it tends to ramble along, and the piece was crying out for a plot of some kind.

Then in act two, everything changed and like London buses, not just one plot came along but three! Winkle enlists his friend Toe-Rag to break into one of the homes he and Gabe had scammed, thereby cutting out the middleman and robbing it themselves. Gabe tries to woo Concetta with promises of riches gained by selling a rare book that he’d stolen from the same home Winkle was off to rob and Ric is beaten up after smashing up a car whose driver was annoying him by hooting the horn. So, from a fairly sedate first act, the change of tone means the play becomes too complicated and frenetic; one good plot would have been perfect.

Gift Of The Gab had all the makings of a really interesting piece. The characters are all larger than life and the setting made for all kinds of plot potential. There were touches in the dialogue and plot (s) of the already mentioned Tarantino, echoes of Pinter and Martin McDonagh and a soupcon of the Ealing comedies especially The Lavender Hill Mob but it never quite worked for me. One of the big problems was the episodic nature of the play which meant that the short individual scenes didn’t have to take shape and there were too many cinematic fades to black where the props were moved not only by the cast but by two assistant stage managers as well and this broke up the flow just as things were getting interesting.

The performances were all very good and there seemed to be genuine chemistry between the three loser conmen, Gabe (Ross Boatman), Arthur (Michael Roberts) and Stan (Charlie Allen) who were well supported by the rest of the cast.

This could have been a really terrific piece, but it just fell short of the mark. Simon David Allen (who also directed) has written some sharp and funny dialogue and the play started and ended very cleverly but the middle let it down somewhat which was a shame as it had so much potential that just wasn’t realised.

3 Star Review

Review by Alan Fitter

1979. The bitter Winter of Discontent. The whole nation is at war with itself, battling industrial strikes, severe unemployment, crippling inflation and fears over immigration and home-grown terrorism. But that’s not going to cramp the style of a den of thieves in Brighton. Unreconstructed, old-school grifters, they live by their wits and some very shady mores and morals. But even they know the end of an era is nigh and their days are numbered, so each is after one last big score before the law and society’s shifting sands catch up to them. And if that score should happen to contain a priceless lost memoir and a beguiling young waitress from Naples, so much the better!

The Gift of the Gab, written and directed by Simon David Eden, is a satire that uses humour to expose the ignorance that fosters casual bigotry, and the fallout for any group or culture when greed drives individuals to put themselves before all others.

Creatives:
Director: Simon David Eden
Producer: Helena Michell
Lighting & Sound Designer: Chuma Emembolu
Set Design: Sim E. Sigh
Costume Designer: Devon Opp
Casting: Jenkins McShane CDG

Cast in order of appearance: Ross Boatman, Michael Roberts, Charlie Allen, Madalina Bellariu, Lewis Bruniges, Ivanhoe Norona and Harold Addo.

LISTINGS INFO
THE GIFT OF THE GAB
written and directed by
Simon David Eden
White Bear Theatre
138 Kennington Park Road
London SE11
https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/

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