Kings

LEO PARKER-REES is turned off by a drama that misses the point of television.

Celebrity chatshow Corpus Dominic Biddle Drama first night nerves interview lateshow leo parker-rees new writing TV

Corpus Playroom, 1st-5th November, 9pm, £5 – £6

Written and Dir. Donald Futers

[rating:2/5]

A TV chat show where everything goes wrong. A once-great host clinging to the shreds of his fame. The reformed-drug-addict star of Hollywood who turns out to be a loose cannon of a guest. It isn’t the most original or exciting premise for a play, but it has promise. With the right execution there’s room for some entertaining (if a little formulaic) descent into chaos. Who’s even interviewing who anyway, right guys?

The problem with Kings was that the performances weren’t quite strong enough to carry it. Lines were slurred, mixed up and thrown away, delivered as though the cast were reading scripts in their heads, not broadcasting a chat show. It seemed a lot like first night nerves. This is a good thing, because I’d be surprised if there isn’t improvement as the show continues; even in that performance, the second half was noticeably better.

The nervy acting was a shame, because it drew attention to the weaknesses in the script, but even with stellar performances the show wouldn’t have been great. You could see what was being attempted, but you could also see that it just hadn’t been done well enough. The ‘technical problems’ –  a transparent device to allow for some real, behind-the-masks conversation – were frustratingly unconvincing. That is not how TV works. Use ad breaks if you want to crowbar in your genuine emotional revelations, thank you.

It’s true that an audience is always being asked to suspend their disbelief, so arguably the show’s cutting out sporadically (whilst maintaining its ever-patient audience) should just be accepted, but there wasn’t enough convincing interaction for me to do that. I’m no stickler for reality, but the way host and guest were talking when they were supposedly live rarely rang true, and needed much subtler suppression of emotion to be convincing as television.Dominic Biddle, playing the Russell-Brandish James Martin, did a lot to improve the evening. He sat on the sofa the way celebrity guests sit on sofas, seeming at ease on stage, and creating impressive contrast between his on- and off-screen personas. While there is still a lot of room for improvement, Biddle’s performance was strong throughout the evening, hindered more by dubious scripting than a lack of ability.

The rest of the cast had their moments. Lizzie Schenk’s frantic intern was the most believable part of the evening (aside from a weak emotional outburst towards the end), and Juliet Cameron-Wilson gave a solid (if a little two-dimensional) performance as Mean Authority Bitch Mrs Burrow. Dylan King himself, played by Edward Eustace, improved steadily as the evening went on. Without any serious slip-ups, he did occasionally blurt out lines as though relieved to have remembered them, but seemed to gain confidence throughout, and gave clear displays of talent.

It wasn’t a great show, but there were moments when the actors managed to bring the script to life and make up for all its unconvincing features. First-night nerves seemed to be a problem, and I think there’s going to be significant improvement from the cast as the run continues. The only trouble is that with this play, I don’t think they’ll ever make it great.