THE Play With Speeches is an ambitious piece of theatrical work from the pen of playwright James Woolf – which is currently getting a welcome airing at the rather delightful Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley, south London. Fine evening fare.
Although not without fault – it’s rather too long and a little far-fetched in places – the play is clever (multi-layered). It exposes the somewhat arbitrary (and cruel) nature of auditions while containing sufficient humour to wipe away temporarily the economic and financial trauma currently pervading our lives like a swarm of flesh seeking midges.
In short, it’s guaranteed to make you smile and laugh – with much of the play’s fun triggered by Matthew Parker whose performance as Anthony is brilliantly over the top. It’s Parker’s first lead role since he was 21 (a few years ago) and he takes to it like a duck to water.
Parker’s Anthony is highly strung, moody, vain and has a lot of personal baggage. He dominates the play from start to finish, strutting around like a grand camp cock looking for hens to pluck. All rather magnificent. All rather watchable. Julian Clary, eat your heart out.
The play takes a little while to fathom out. But once you get your brain around the fact that it is play within a play, things nicely fit into place. The audience (uninvited, we are told) is actually watching a series of auditions for a play that Anthony has stitched together (quite literally) and which his former partner Penny (Gillian King) has been asked to direct. Why Anthony has turned to her, only heaven knows. Revenge?
As the actors come on stage in turn to audition, it is the mounting friction between Anthony and Penny that dominates proceedings, not the play building before our eyes (one involving the death of a philandering banker). Anthony just can’t let bygones be bygones and they squabble away like two black hens (or like one steely hen, one preening cock). It’s incendiary. Combustible.
While Parker takes the plaudits, his Anthony (no, not Antony) wouldn’t work without the contrasting Penny who quietly schemes away – and gets her eventual revenge. It’s an understated performance from King – and the play is better for it. Together, Parker and King work. Like cheese and pickle.
There are some wonderful cameo performances from the endless stream of actors who come on stage and flesh out Anthony’s play – while striving to get the nod from the bickering couple.
Harrison Trott catches the eye, playing a cleaner (‘actor 10’) who delivers his lines as rhyming couplets while craving a far bigger role in the play he is auditioning for. So does Izabelle Lee who is plucked from the audience to stand in for a non-attendee and charges around stage like someone on steroids. Peter J-Jones is also rather good as Nick, in charge of ensuring the auditions are done in timely fashion (they aren’t).
Directed by Katherine Reilly and produced by Olive & Stavros (theatre for the damned), The Play With Speeches is a rather damn good play.
Off west-end theatre at its best. Catch it if you can – and forget the world for 110 minutes. A bargain at £16 (£14, concessions).
The Play With Speeches runs until October 22.
Photos by Lidia Crisafulli
Visit the Jack Studio Theatre –https://brockleyjack.co.uk/