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BWW Review: BROKEN LAD, Arcola Theatre

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Robin Hooper's new play examines toxic masculinity and its causes but fails to convince with its sketchy characters

BWW Review: BROKEN LAD, Arcola Theatre BWW Review: BROKEN LAD, Arcola Theatre Phil has been on the slide for a while. His stand-up act has gone out of fashion, his womanising is catching up with him and the medics don't like what they see on the scans. There's one chance of a return - a gig in a grotty pub with a big time agent in the crowd, friends and family to support and a lucky teddy bear for company. Upstairs, in an even grottier makeshift dressing room, things start to unravel.

Robin Hooper's new play goes into territory previously covered by Martin Scorsese's, The King of Comedy, but we never approach that movie's satirical bite nor its darkest humour. That's primarily because the characters, presented with the sketchiest of backstories, lack credibility - without real people to care about, we can't rouse ourselves sufficiently to care.

Patrick Brennan is entitled, opinionated and obnoxious as Phil, but there's no charm bubbling below the surface to convince us of his glory days, no sharpness in his observations and, most disappointingly of all, no laughs from the few jokes we hear from him, which are Christmas cracker stuff. Ria, his son's on-off girlfriend (and the least likely City banker I've seen) with whom he has had an affair, claims that all the girls in her school fancied him, but he's hardly Rob Newman or Tony Slattery in looks nor vulnerability. We hear that Phil was a hit on the Saturday night shows, but they are not identified, nor are any real comedians name-checked, so we can't place him with Ben Elton or Paul Merton or Jimmy Carr.

It's hard to know exactly what purpose Ned (Adrian McLoughlin) serves as his gay friend and superfan and Carolyn Backhouse does what she can with a stereotypical successful and (hence) divorced wife, but one can pretty much predict what she says before we hear it.

The dramatic thrust behind the play concerns the relationship between Phil and his son, Josh, who hero-worships his flawed father and wants to follow in his footsteps, supplanting him as lover and comedian. Dave Perry acts well, but he's described in the programme as early twenties when he looks at least ten years older than that (older than Ria too) and that does change the dynamic. Josh also bounces between hating (and even wanting to kill) his father and behaving as if things were back to normal, without much being said or done to heal the rifts that open and close so quickly.

It is important to show a huge demographic of the British public (fifty-something white men, but not those running things) on the stage and we get a glimpse of their ugly self-pity and the loneliness that provokes it, but the play needs more detail, more subtlety and, most of all, more credibility in its characters if it is to deliver on its considerable promise.

Broken Lad is at the Arcola Theatre until 6 November

Photo David Monteith


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