Based on the successful podcast series of the same name, Brian & Roger: A Highly Offensive Play is all about the relationship between two men who first met at a support group for recently divorced men
One who is manipulative, the other who is manipulated. One who refuses to leave his past behind, the other moving on, seizing the moment and in the process getting himself and his ‘buddy’ into all kinds of trouble.
It’s an absurd storyline that takes them to China and gambling in a Wiltshire abattoir, but overall it’s one hour and 45 minutes of fun. Some will be offended by the references to sex with certain animals, but a majority will enjoy its non-pc undertone. And it’s not as if the play hides from what it is: ‘A highly offensive play.’
Brian (Simon Lipkin) is the stronger of the two characters – and has a string of dodgy connections in Eastern Europe. He persuades a somewhat depressed Roger (Dan Skinner) – who has spent most of his working life in the lower echelons of hospitality – to do all kinds of things he would never do in a month of Sundays if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s broke and vulnerable.
So, Roger agrees to help out a psychic who is given the task of getting a Romanian to connect with the late Nicolae Ceausescu. He is asked by Brian to retrieve a computer from a house pretending to be a plumber coming round to unblock a toilet. A task that results in him ending up very much worse for wear after an encounter with a rather angry cobra (yes, a cobra).
He also acts as a driver/minder for Brian at a gambling den and most absurdly of all he spends days trekking across China in an attempt to get some villagers to move their homes so that one of Brian’s dodgy business contacts can complete a lucrative construction project.
Invariably, it’s Roger who comes out of all these encounters badly. Meanwhile, Brian never seems far away from a drug or sex fest. Boy, is our Brian a deviant.
There are some wonderful moments – Brian receiving some painful treatment at the hands of a domimatrix and Roger (under the cloak of darkness) having his toe cut off with a pair of bolt cutters by Brian. Anything goes, whether it’s a bit of painful bondage or taking heroin.
There are twists and turns right up until the end, none of which will endear you to Brian. You know he’s bad from the start. By the end, you want to put pins in him. In contrast, Roger is someone you either want to take under your wing and look after – or give him a good shaking.
Directed by David Babani and written by Harry Peacock and Dan Skinner, nearly all the exchanges between Brian and Roger are made via messages left on each other’s phones. It could be tedious on the eye, but the clever use of video (Timothy Bird) makes up for this, transporting (sometimes wittily) the audience from one location to another. One moment, outside the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London. The next, Brian against a backdrop of seedy strip joints (where else would you expect to find him?).
All in all, a rather enjoyable play with two fine performances from Lipkin and Skinner. But not for those with sensitive ears and eyes. On the edge.
Title photo by Nobby Clark