You’ve Burnt the Parsnips
Theatre Editor AMI JONES doesn’t mean to be impolite, but she simply can’t bring herself to stomach this underseasoned offering.
Pembroke New Cellars, 15th-19th November, 9.30pm, £3.50-4.50
Directed by Matt Pullen
Parsnips are not my favourite vegetable at the best of times. OK, give me a decent (veggie) roast and potatoes to go with it, and some peas, too, please, and I’ll stomach ’em. Gravy doesn’t hurt either. I’ll even begrudgingly give parsnip chips a go. Just don’t give me a pile of them undercooked, unseasoned and unpalatable.
The set exuded promise. The ironic middle-class living/dining room built almost entirely out of 2-D cardboard cutouts seemed to foreshadow some level of originality or cleverness. Perhaps. It was different, anyway. I’m not going to follow that statement with a joke on how the acting became as cardboard and 2-D. If anything, I was rearing for it. It wanted to be silly, stupid, fun. But if you want to be silly-stupid-fun you have to be willing to be silly-stupid-fun.
The plot revolves around a dinner-party of repulsive caricatures and all the mad shenanigans which – of course – end up going down. Extra-marital affairs are conducted under the noses of other guests, marked by surreal sequences involving aggressive light changes and loud music cues. Which is fine, but not when a bunch of stage lights and a recording of “Je T’aime” are far more vivid and exciting than the acting. There are few things worse to witness than when intended ridiculousness collapses into embarrassed self-consciousness. If all you’re going to offer me is silly fun, give me silly fun. Properly. Not half-engaged, lacklustre wriggling.
Pullen’s script itself was bursting at the seams with ‘meta-humour’, and seemed to think that that was enough in of itself. But anyone can write a LOL WE’RE ONSTAGE BUT AWARE OF IT punchline. It’s not a substitute for the quality of the actual joke. It still has to be funny, guys (gems included “You’ve already broken the glass… don’t go breaking THE FOURTH WALL!”).
To rub salt into my wounded palate, You’ve Burnt the Parsnips offered cruel tantalising morsels of What Could Have Been. Bella Plumptre, playing central bitchy middle-class housewife Susan, teased with one or two asides delivered with astute comedy. And Pullen, near the beginning, offered one of the best 30-second string of relentless puns I’ve heard in a while, but seemed to have spent all his energy there and dribbled out for the rest of the hour.
Look, I can live without my roast and ‘tatoes and peas and gravy. But if you’re not going to give me a proper honey-glazing (or even a little pinch of salt n’ pepper), then I’m terribly sorry – and I don’t mean to be rude – but no parsnips for me, please.