How to Pick Up Girls by Tim Briffa is a sausage-fest of a Battle-of-the-Sexes in the Two Pints of Lager… mould. It is neither head-scratchingly deep nor rip-roaringly funny but does occasionally come to life in flashes of entertaining observations. Adam, Vince, and Nick are twenty-somethings who buy into the “lad culture” of porn magazines and one-night stands until they see old mother time ticking by. This is the story of their early forays into the serious adult world of relationships and women problems.
What follows is neither clever nor insightful. The plot struggles to develop beyond the superficial level of “boys on the pull,” and this is due in part to the often flat performances of the cast who struggle to develop any chemistry with one another. Largely though, it is because the storyline is too base, neither developing the plot nor the characters enough to give the actors an anchor in their roles.
It’s as if Briffa felt an hour and a half wasn’t enough time to convey the complexity of real people so instead presented two-dimensional image typecasts with only one thing on their mind, and this “thing” was in their pants. That’s a real shame because this could have been an opportunity to question more deeply those stereotypes and provoke debate. Instead, it perpetuated this and, thus, at times dragged because it was banal and lacked meaning.
Where, if anywhere, the play does excel is in its comedic observations of popular society. Aside from the “philosophical questions” of “Who would you rather sleep with: Carol Smiley or Carol Vorderman? Barbara Windsor or Pauline Fowler? Now or in their prime?”, How to Pick Up Girls does pose the more challenging, “Why do all successful female singer/songwriters have a face like a horse?”, and “Will porn mags die out with the advent of the internet?” However, these moments are in too short supply to hold the audience’s attention for the length of the disproportionately long first half of the performance.
The second half of the play, much better due to its more compact timescale, contains more drama as the geeky Nick is dumped by his first proper girlfriend and seeks to re-integrate into the group of friends he had been shunning. Yet, again, the attempt to portray these emotions fails due to a script which must sound good on paper or when read on one’s own, but fails to hit the same heights the actors are scaling due to the inappropriate complexity of the language used. Moreover, due to the disproportionate length of the two halves of the play, split by a ten-minute interval, How to Pick Up Girls lacks balance and a conclusive end.
In its defence, though, How to Pick Up Girls never claims to be an insightful piece of thought-provoking drama. Its aim is to entertain and, though it drags at times, it does this, as was testified by the woman about two rows back from me who was in stitches for large parts of the opening half-hour.
Which brings me to my final positive about this night out: the Etcetera Theatre. Though small, it is an excellent, informal, and friendly venue, perfect for this kind of theatre. (It bills itself as the smallest theatre in London.) Long may it be a stomping ground of fresh talent.
by Jon Grant and Tom Warren
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