Sunday, July 31, 2011

Odious Comparison: Park Avenue Cat at Arts Theatre, Leicester Square and After the Dance on BBBC Channel 4.

It's a promising sign, I think, when a theatre programme consists of the complete text of the play.It promises a meaty plot you'll have to get to grips with later, or dazzling dialogue to savour at leisure. The last time I experienced this was at The Young Vic when Jane Horrocks starred in a fantastic production of The Good Woman of Schetzwan

But what a let down! Frank Stausser's joyless piece really isn't worth cramping your legs between the rows in the Arts Theatre for, even when the show lasts only an hour and a quarter. I felt relieved and ripped off at the same time.

The premise looks good: a Los Angeles psychotherapist is consulted by 41 year old model who can't decide whether to settle down and have kids with her staid middle-aged lover, or continue a passionate affair with a young playboy rich enough to have a pool and a butler.

Psychotherapist Nancy is played by Tessa Peake-Jones from Only Fools and Horses, who does a fine line in controlled exasperation. The older man, Philip, is Gray O'Brien, the mad-eyed charmer who terrorised Coronation Street's Gale Platt, and the model,Lilly, elegant Josefina Gabrielle, resembles a slimmer Nigella Lawson. The young millionaire Dorian has almost nothing to do but Daniel Wayna makes him plausible.

So what was missing? Only a credible plot, any hint of chemistry between the actors, or vestige of witty dialogue. Some amusement was provided by the phone voices of Nancy's other patients in crisis. Tess Peake-Jones wrung laughs from the contrast between the cheerful cliches of her advice and the irritation she was feeling at her clients' behaviour. It's a bad sign, though, when the scene changes are more entertaining than the play.

It didn't help, of course, that we'd watched Terence Rattigan's After the Dance, on TV the night before. Comparison was invited because it had the same insouciant attitude to relationships and a similar theme of a young woman caught between an older man's suavity and a younger one's ardour. The difference was the brittle half-amusement, half-depair, wholly engaging tone of the script; beneath the banter,there were real feelings.

While Anton Rodgers as the doomed writer doused his liver with whiskey and soda, Imogen Stubbs the dewy-eyed ingenue discarded her fiance to save him. Gemma Jones as the cast-aside wife put on a brave face while world-weary John Bird delivered witticisms from a sofa; all to a backdrop of an ongoing cocktail party and juicy gossip.

Speaking of cocktails, it's annoying that West End pubs are so crowded, inside and out; you can't face the fight to the bar, even to wash away the taste of a wasted evening.

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