Pop Not Broth

HANNAH MIRSKY was confused not amused.

Ben Pope biff and chip hannah mirsky pop not broth tom duggins

Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm, 23-27th October

Dir. Tom Duggins

Let’s start with a round-up of the best three moments of this production. They were, in order of ascending hilarity: a joke about fisting, a joke about fingering, and a fake moustache that wouldn’t stay on. Judging from the way the actor wearing it subtly removed it before the play ended, it seems safe to say that the malfunctioning facial hair wasn’t even deliberate. When the funniest moment of the evening comes from first-night prop problems, you know there’s something wrong.

Pop not Broth promises, in its advertising, to deliver ‘an unrelenting farce, a comedy tailor-made for the blithe age’. What it actually delivers is – baffling. The protagonists are a motley crew of murderers and drug-dealers, who, for a variety of tangled reasons, beat each other up, tie each other up, and put each other in a large black box which appears, for no properly explained reason, in the middle of the stage halfway through the production.

I think the comedy is meant to arise from the fact that these characters are so nonchalant about the strange goings-on around them, but most of the time they simply seem bored. Or maybe that’s just the actors.

Credit has to go to the supporting cast – Ryan Ammar as an enthusiastic negotiator, Ben Pope as a corrupt undercover detective and Sam Twells as a pervy landlord – simply for playing tired caricatures with gusto and providing most of the few amusing moments in this production. But these were just a few small mercies in a production otherwise notable for its lifeless acting.

At certain points – a murderer admitting her husband abused her, a man reflecting on the death of his friend – I was genuinely unsure if the audience was supposed to be moved. These moments certainly weren’t funny, but in terms of emotional depth and resonance, they were roughly on a level with a Biff and Chip story.

It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to leave a theatre feeling confused. Sometimes the puzzlement is caused by the moral ambiguities of a play, how a show messes with conventions of drama, or the complexities of an individual character. With Pop not Broth, however, I was simply left bewildered and let down by the lack of energy, the lack of laughs, and the story itself.