Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Four Angry Men

Four chairs. And four chaps. All clad in dapper suits. That's all Ben Woolf's highly entertaing show required to make me laugh pretty much solidly for an hour. The play, Angry Young Man by theatre company MahWaff, has been around since 2005, playing to acclaim in various fringe venues, but this is the first time I've seen it. The play tells the story of Yuri, a Russian doctor with a limited grasp of English, who has come to London looking for work. The frantic plot crams in menacing skin heads, gullible posh blokes and coquettish Notting Hill rich girls, but for all its incident, the story is eclipsed by the manner of its telling.

The four actors share the character of Yuri between them and switch between supporting roles at a rapid rate. This isn't at all confusing, the timing of the cast is impeccable and the character switches are never jarring, the story flows along beautifully. What really appeals is the way you can simultaneously appreciate the cleverness of the staging while revelling in the humour of the piece. It both excites from a creative perspective, yet keeps you laughing and engaged throughout. There's even a kernel of something serious at its centre about the way this country treats its immigrants, though this is rather thrown away.

While the cast worked wonderfully as a group, a single unit, there were some lovely individual moments. Hugh Skinner, left to mop up the most minor roles, was very funny, reluctantly standing in, at various points in the play, for a trophy stag on the wall, a tongue-lolling Labrador and a urinating garden fountain. I also liked Alex Waldmann as Patrick's simpering girlfriend Alison.

Playing in the rather cramped downstairs space at the Trafalgar Studios (those double benches are a bit of a lottery; I was sat next to a sturdy gent, who, with his coat and case and various bits and pieces, left me with only about a fifth of the thing on which to perch), this was meant to be staged as part of a double bill with a newer work by Woolf, but illness has meant this second piece, The Explorer, has been cancelled. A real shame, as on the strength of this production, I'm really keen to see more of his work.

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