As a general rule, most plays need some form of structure and shape; they need to unfold, to develop, to take the audience on a journey. It doesn’t need to be a long journey, it doesn’t need to make you reassess your life as you know it or shift your political beliefs. But it needs to move you in some small way. Or else it’s just two hours of noise.
Which brings me, conveniently, to All Mouth, the new comedy at the Menier Chocolate Factory. The play, by Jonathan Lewis and Miranda Foster, is set in the world of advertising voiceover artists, and while it does make you chuckle on occasion, it’s more or less two hours of noise. The characters, four actors who use a central London flat as a base for hanging out and learning their lines, are incredibly thinly sketched, stereotypes who never really grow beyond simple two-word tags: aging thesp, American bloke, divorced mother, and, erm, the other one.
There’s a plot of sorts about an actors strike and a young actor who wheedles his way into the aging thesp’s affections as a way of getting his career off the ground, but it doesn’t work as drama or satire and you get little sense of who these people are. Some solid performances keep the play afloat and render it watchable but, as it is, it feels like a work in progress – a play in need of a complete re-write.
Now, the West End Whingers have a thing about the Menier’s unreserved seating policy, but this has never bothered me quite so much as the lack of air-con, more noticeable here than at any other venue I can think of. I have never had a more uncomfortable night at the theatre than I had watching a performance of The Last Five Years there on a hot July night last year. It was so stuffy in the theatre that the staff were handing out tiny battery-powered fans at the door. Even with those it was impossible to enjoy the show properly; it was like sitting in a sauna. Christ knows how the actors coped. It’s a shame because as a venue I’m quite fond of it, though my affection is bound to dwindle if they keep on staging nothingy comedies like this.
Oh yes and the ‘dead white men’ debate is still trundling on, with a riposte from Nicholas Hytner in the Observer.