Aspiring writers are usually told “write about what you know”, and that is what first-time playwright Sam Peter Jackson has done in portraying 20-something actors coming to terms with the difficulties of their profession and personal lives. But if he is really writing about what he knows, then all of the stereotypes about self-obsession, ridiculous angst and general luvviness are also true.
These are both the strength and the weakness of his Minor Irritations, on at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington, south London, until January 8. The audience is ready to laugh at his characters, and when Jackson gives them a succession of delightful one-liners, to really laugh. But this sits rather oddly with the angst-ridden moments of quarter-life crisis that the characters are apparently suffering. Jackson has a real talent for word-play and the comic scene, but needs to lighten up and keep that mood throughout; perhaps what is needed is just a bit more growing up – something that could definitely be said of his characters.
The author plays the central figure of Minor Irritations, Ben, a “resting” actor who’s working in a call centre, auditioning for a chicken burger commercial and yet to get over his ex-boyfriend, Jay (Luke Evans), who’s living in New York and succeeding. Ben’s best friend/fag hag is Harriet (Dulcie Lewis), who cheerfully hams up her role as an air-headed part-time air hostess and Jewish princess who arrives on stage obsessing about her recent purchase of The Big Issue. She says of her interaction with the vendor “I always want to say, ‘Don’t you have Vogue or Vanity Fair?”
Ben’s deep in debt, losing it at the call centre – “why is a nun a C1 classification?” – he demands angrily of his uncomprehending barrow-boy boss, so decides the solution to his problems is to visit the old flame in New York for a long weekend. On the way he encounters a thoroughly camp airline steward who offers “promotional sex”, and sits beside a young New York waiter who’d definitely like to get to know him better.
But Ben is instead off to visit the ex, and his new 18-year-old boyfriend, Jez (Giles Cooper). Ben and Jay inevitably quarrel, and Ben flees, only to run into his fellow plane passenger, who happens to room with the dippy actress waitress (also played by Lewis). It sounds like a real tangle, but the cast of four do an excellent job of covering the half a dozen extra characters, and the mix of accents is surprisingly well done.
Jackson does a good job of making his self-obsessed character, whose favourite audition piece is his “Penis Monologue” – highlight “My penis is my home, my country and my friend!”, likeable as well as laughable, and Cooper does an excellent job of simmering camp sexuality, combined with a nice line in putdown. But all are handicapped by the total adherence to every stereotype in the book. Couldn’t the airline steward have been aggressively straight, just once?
Nonetheless, with all those hormones surging over the stage, and the bodies, and the laughs, it would be a great date show (on the model of the date movie), whatever your sexual orientation. But you might want to have the after-theatre drinks elsewhere than the pub at the front of the theatre, for it is one of those that makes you wish for Tony Blair to finally find the courage to bring in a smoking ban.
Links: The White Bear Theatre and an interview with the author.
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