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Winner’s Curse at Park Theatre

Imagine sitting through a show that, in effect, doesn’t tell you anything you could have read by performing a few Google searches (other search engines are available). Winner’s Curse is a good example of this, peppering a mildly interesting series of general insights into the art of negotiation with as many punchlines as possible. The scattergun approach produces scattergun results, with Hugo Leitski (Clive Anderson – yes, the one from Whose Line Is it Anyway?), a renowned diplomat and peace negotiator, bouncing on and off stage, constantly giving way to the dramatization of the story he is supposed to be telling himself in the format of a lecture.

Winner's Curse - Photo by Alex Brenner.
Winner’s Curse – Photo by Alex Brenner.

Unusually for someone who doesn’t care for audience involvement, let alone participation, I found the various sections that involved doing something the most enjoyable. Suffice it to say this doesn’t bode well for the rest of the show, which seemed to be trying endlessly to play to the gallery. Some recurring punchlines were given a degree of variation by substituting one word for another, but otherwise the multiple variants of ‘better X than Y’ were increasingly tiresome.

The show doesn’t shy away from stereotypes, but rather embraces them, with General Marek Gromski (Barrie Rutter) being very much the womaniser who likes a drink, while the object of much of his affections, Vaslika Krenskaya (Nichola McAuliffe) is the landlady of the Black Lagoon Lodge, with everything not nearly as grand as either negotiating party was expecting. Take away the ‘V’ from Vaslika and say it out loud, and one realises how crude this show is attempting to be. It almost naturally follows that her guests relish miscellaneous opportunities to say – no, proclaim – the name: “Vass-licker! Vass-licker!”

The bizarreness of it all is at least consistent. The arrival of Tyler (Greg Lockett), a mediator from the United States, threatens to upset an already delicate balance, and it isn’t long before he starts envisioning the use of – wait for it – guns. The jokes, and there are quite a few of them, don’t offer much in the way of insight, or advance the storyline. One about going round in circles as Anton Korsakov (Michael Maloney) and a younger version of Hugo Leitski (Arthur Conti, making his professional debut) stand on a moving revolve was a metaphor for the show as a whole. This isn’t, admittedly, entirely a bad thing, given that this is a show about negotiating. But viewing international diplomatic relations through the prism of a game is more than a little jarring, and there were missed opportunities in the portrayal of fictitious and rather vague negotiations to latch onto any of the current industrial disputes at the time of writing, in various sectors, both at home and abroad.

Completing the list of onstage characters is Rozhina Flintok (Winnie Arhin), the sole female negotiator, who thinks, with some justification, that Leitski is attempting to take her to bed (spoiler alert, not that there is much of a story to spoil: they are on opposing negotiating teams, and you can work out what the potential fallout could have been if word got out about any bedroom activity). A glimpse of what this show could have been comes late in proceedings, when Korsakov talks sincerely with Leitski about the implications of the negotiations at personal, professional, national and international levels. But by then it is difficult to care, either because one has accepted the production’s acquired sense of humour and would like the show to return to it forthwith, and/or because the sheer amount of humour and attempted humour has stripped away any semblance that any of the characters are taking international peace negotiation seriously.

I can’t help thinking this might have worked better as a one-act production with Clive Anderson uninterrupted and unencumbered, and without an unwieldy narrative going on around him – I left the theatre wondering what might have been if the lecture a distinguished negotiator was meant to deliver was experienced in full.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Two countries are locked in battle over a strip of land when a fragile ceasefire provides a chance for peace. Over the negotiating table, cynical diplomats, idealistic peacemakers and meddling mediators try to navigate a perilous path to agreement as the threat of continued conflict looms ever larger.

CAST
(OLD) HUGO LEITSKI I CLIVE ANDERSON
ROZHINA FLINTOK I WINNIE ARHIN
YOUNG LEITSKI I ARTHUR CONTI
TYLER I GREG LOCKETT
ANTON KORSAKOV I MICHAEL MALONEY
VASLIKA KRENSKAYA I NICHOLA MCAULIFFE
GENERAL VOLVISCH GROMSKI I BARRIE RUTTER

WRITER | DANIEL TAUB
WRITER | DAN PATTERSON
DIRECTOR I JEZ BOND
SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER | ISOBEL NICOLSON
LIGHTING DESIGNER | SHERRY COENEN
COMPOSER AND SOUND DESIGNER | SOPHIE COTTON
PRODUCTION MANAGER FOR E-STAGE | TABITHA PIGGOTT
COSTUME SUPERVISOR | STEPHANIE GREENSLADE
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR | INDIA DILLON
MOVEMENT DIRECTOR | NATASHA HARRISON
PRODUCTION ELECTRICIAN (LX) / PROGRAMMER | ARIANE NIXON
ASSISTANT DESIGNER | JESS STATON

PRODUCER | DANIEL COOPER
ASSISTANT PRODUCER | ELLEN HARRIS
COMPANY STAGE MANAGER | ANA CARTER
ASSISTANT COMPANY STAGE MANAGER | PREECE KILLICK
WARDROBE MANAGER | MAISIE JACKAMAN
STAGE MANAGEMENT INTERN | BECCA ELSEY
REVOLVE OPERATOR | WESLEY SHEFFIELD

Park Theatre presents the World Premiere of
Winner’s Curse
By Daniel Taub with Dan Patterson
Directed by Jez Bond
https://parktheatre.co.uk/

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