Review: Presto

MATT KILROY proposes ‘It just isn’t really a play. It’s an odd rambling shambles’ but MAX BARTON’s feels the ‘shambles’ is worthy of glowing praise.

Adam Lawrence Corpus Playrooms magician

9th – 13th February, 9.30pm at the Corpus Christi Playrooms.

Directed by Adam Lawrence.

MATT KILROY is confused by the shambles.

Here’s a piece of magic for you:

A man walks into the Corpus Playroom. WHOAH he sees an incredible play, it’s a piece of new writing filled with goodness, laughs and a warm fuzzy heart, it’s fab and whizzo and splendid and blimey, you should go and see it.

Here’s a not very good joke for you:

A man walks into the Corpus Playroom. Ouch.

It is a crying, weeping, bawling shame that watching Adam Lawrence’s Presto is more likely to cause an ‘Ow’ than a ‘Wow,’ because we are dealing here with a man who is clearly very funny, but who is struggling to make his unique comedic voice work on the stage. Unfortunately, turning what is essentially a series of surreal sketches and deliberately poor stand-up routines into a play is a dangerous game, as is the self-conscious authorial decision to avoid, um, ‘structure’ – a bit like Robin turning to Batman and saying ‘Hey dude, I don’t need you any more to help me fight crime. Nor do I need my superb hand-eye co-ordination, or my legs.’

Lawrence, as well as writing and directing, plays Will, a ‘professional’ magician (his tricks so formulaic that Tommy Cooper’s fez is probably spinning in its grave) and an amateur man. He bounces off a few friends, fancies a girl, is generally a bit useless, shoots Marilyn Manson, as you do, then fails to impress said girl. End.

The play ganglingly mixes stylised caricatures, naturalistic banterous conversation, strange video interludes and plenty of sheer what-the-fuckery. Its plot is stringy (no structure, you see) and the string that holds it together is made of jokes. Silly string, if you like. There are plenty of funny lines, and several bizarre but entertaining set pieces, but the overwhelmingly deadpan delivery is hit-and-miss, the self-deprecating humour overused and the shallowness of it all swiftly evident. With the prodigious comic talents onstage you can’t help but feel that something, somewhere has gone rather wrong.

That said, the shambolic nature of the play as a whole is, in its own way, charming, and several members of the audience were pissing themselves laughing the whole way through. A larger crowd, perhaps a touch more inebriated, and with a few more Jesus College representatives in attendance, would doubtlessly cackle the roof down – so if you fit any of these bills then feel free to add a star or two to the above rating (in your minds, though, ‘fraid we haven’t got one of them interactive doodads yet).

The play is like a sped-up stoner conversation with a group of weirdoes, stuck in the middle of a labyrinth that doesn’t go anywhere. Its sheer strangeness is gripping to begin with, but this inventiveness inevitably fades as the dialogue and plot collapse in on themselves like dogs chasing their own tails being sucked into a black hole of nonsense. Still, the production makes great use of Twixes, and it is funny. It just isn’t really a play. It’s an odd rambling shambles.

MAX BARTON is excited by something unique.


Last night with a limping sprint from cab to box office, box office to cash point (why would anywhere self-respecting not take card?), cash point to box office and finally the Corpus Playroom I found Adam Lawrence treating one of the 6 audience members, full of child-like glee, to a beautifully simple and effective card trick. And thus I was sold. Many of the problems that Matt Kilroy, although I do think he writes wonderfully, found with the play, for me added to its charm.

The play is wonderfully unpredictable and so does at times appear distracted from its own path, but, for whatever reason, I found that this gave the fragments of true plot real weight and clarity.  While others in the audience were still amused, I found Adam’s final speech astonishingly moving, combining a frenetic sense of humour and an emotional universality with real flair. Despite the fact that one minute Ben Rowse, who should be gracing Smoker stages, delivered an ambling, rambling and shambling anti-narration and the next Marilyn Manson received a deservedly premature end, the age old unrequited love storyline somehow pulled at my heart strings and struck a bleak chord with me (played on the thankfully still living piano bird – another peculiar inhabitant of the show).

Presto was not perfect.  The acting was mixed (although particular mention must go to Susie Chrystal, who balanced wise cracker and wise friend with panache) and some of the jokes fell a little flat (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Shit was beautifully ironic in its eponymy). In fact, the play was something of a Frankenstein’s monster, and the sheer variety of styles that were whacked together meant that of course the quality peaked and troughed. It was, as Matt succinctly put it “a rambling shambles”, but then why did I, and the other 5 members of the audience, manage to fill the Playroom’s deadened acoustic with raucous laughter, and why was it one of the most enjoyable 50 minutes I have spent in a Cambridge theatre?

I’m fucked if I know, but we did and it was. Adam Lawrence has clearly put a lot of himself into it, and his self is a thing of bizarre beautiful, Eeyore-like intelligence.  I strongly beseech you all to go and make up your own minds about Presto, if only to be there at the beginning of what promises to be an exciting, peculiar and star blazing writing career.