The big draw of Stage Fright is the chance it affords to assess whether former lads' mag favourite Abi Titmuss can really cut it on stage. But Lynn Howes' comedy is such a lame duck that it's actually rather difficult to tell – you could ask Fiona Shaw to deliver this material and she'd come out looking like an amateur.
Drain a comedy of laughs and you're left with little but a framework, and in this case that framework is hideously contrived and offers nothing in the way of suspense or surprise. Billed as “savagely funny” (aren't they always), in actuality it's savagely dull, and should never have made it to the rehearsal room, nevermind the stage.
The plot revolves around the attempt of two old friends – struggling actor Charles (Sion Tudor-Owen) and struggling writer Peter (Alex Barclay) – to mount a West End comeback, the former motivated primarily by a desire to get closer to ruthlessly ambitious wannabe celebrity Geraldine (Titmuss). As 'Aldine' drives a wedge between the two men in order to manipulate the play as a vehicle for herself, the jilted duo plot their revenge come the first night.
There are glimpses of satire (Peter pitching his latest writing project, a “dramatic essay on the bus stops of Oxford Street”), but generally the dialogue is at best gratingly expositional and at worst excruciatingly unfunny.
So what of Miss Titmuss? Well, like her co-stars she faces a daunting task trying to wring any laughs from this dry sponge of a script, not aided by the fact her comic timing is rather crude. On the other hand, she's a magnetic presence, and certainly holds her own next to an oddly underpowered Barclay and an increasingly desperate Tudor-Owen, who goes awkwardly over-the-top in his attempts to illicit laughs.
The 90 minutes (including an unnecessary five-minute interval) feels like a lifetime, not helped by clunking scene changes long enough to make a cup of tea in. And all that the Producers-esque ending serves to achieve is to remind one of how the comic potential of bad art has been exploited so much better elsewhere, and how ironic it seems to be watching a bad play about a bad play in which a good review is the holy grail. No chance of life imitating art, I'm afraid.