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The Crumple Zone: ‘a charming and compelling piece of theatre’

The Crumple ZoneI must be getting on a bit. Sat amongst a cosmopolitan audience for The Crumple Zone, an American play old enough to have received a New Voices Play Award in 1998, certain punchlines had me roaring with laughter, but left people younger than me nonplussed at best. I couldn’t help noticing the old-style answering machine and somewhat refreshing lack of what our American friends would call ‘cells’ (mobile telephones). That Mariah Carey tune, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ (only referenced here as a section of it is played in this seasonal show), was only four years old at the time, assuming the show is set ‘in the present day’ at the time it was written.

That is not to say the show, or at least this production of it, is dated. There are regular moments of pretty much universal laughter, as Terry (Samuel Tucker) becomes more and more outrageous, in the way that camp characters in comedies of this nature tend to be. In some ways, this sort of character has been done so many times before – consider, for instance, Albin / Zaza in La Cage aux Folles – and it takes some talent to make a character of this sort so engaging and original. Tucker nails it time and time again, supported by a strong script from Buddy Thomas, with lines and putdowns that are best described as shameless without being shameful.

This is a play that comes close to being a little like Aspects of Love, a musical so mercilessly lampooned by the satirical New York revue Forbidden Broadway, for having characters with highly liberal attitudes towards sexual relations. “Hey, I better sleep with you! / To be sure I didn’t miss you!” Not exactly one for all the family, the laughs came so thick and fast (as it were: I can’t help either my own or other audience members’ minds at phrases like that one) I sometimes missed details in the storyline: that isn’t the production’s weakness, it’s mine. That said, there seemed to be some confusion in the minds of some of the characters themselves, which added to the likeable but nonetheless chaotic nature of the narrative.

For reasons I need not go into here, the press night performance did not quite get to the thrilling final showdown the play is famed for, before the curtain came down. It’s the live theatre experience, these things happen, and all that jazz. The abridged version I did see was delightful and multi-layered. Alex (Kit Loyd) manages to bawl his eyes out often enough without coming across as a cry baby character – he’s not in steady employment, though this is not for want of trying, and a long-distance relationship with mild-mannered (to a point) Matt (Tim Jennings) can’t be sustained, what with Buck (Jack Armstrong) on the scene. Completing the list of characters is Roger (Myles Rogerson), who as far I could tell is a rent boy in all but name. Shouldn’t ‘Roger’ really have been called ‘Buck’? Just saying, as the hashtag goes.

Of note is a long story from Alex, early on in the show, about a negative experience in a shopping precinct, simultaneously hilarious and disheartening, and a later confrontation between Terry and Matt, well-choreographed (if that is the right word) sends the production into hearty overdrive. Steadily-paced, I found this to be a charming and compelling piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

LAMBCO Productions proudly presents the British Premiere
The Crumple Zone
by Buddy Thomas
Directed by Robert McWhir
http://www.thecrumplezone.co.uk/

Samuel Tucker as Terry
Jack Tompkins as Buck
Tim Jennings as Matt
Myles Rogerson as Roger
Kit Loyd as Alex

Clapham Omnibus, 19th to 23rd December 2016
Pleasance Stagespace, 27th to 29th December 2016
Press Night 7.30pm Tuesday 20th December 2016, 7.30pm at the Clapham Omnibus

Taking place in a Staten Island apartment over the Christmas holiday season, this hilarious comedy gives a fly-on-the-wall perspective when four friends and a mystery visitor find themselves in just one apartment.

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