The only thing that is seriously audacious about Audacity, a play written and directed by Simon Mawdsley that is being billed as a "comedy thriller", is how obvious, plodding and contrived it actually is, without being remotely comic, chilling or thrilling as intended.
Originally produced in 1999, its revival now suggests the serious paucity of decent plays available on the fringe circuit, and how desperately it seeks to be something else: a West End play of a much earlier generation.
In its manners and mannerisms, it feels like one of those desperately hokey and old-fashioned plays that were once a West End staple but are now thankfully extinct, rendered finally obsolete by the cracker of them all, Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth, that simultaneously sent up the genre while also supplying the definitive version of it. That's to say, it's one of those plays where nothing is ever quite what it seems, and it seeks to grip and confound in equal measure as it twists and turns through seemingly endless permutations of what's actually happening, before delivering a final killer "surprise".
Three desperate men hatch an even more desperate plan to rob the cashier's office of a large London department store called Jarvis and Klein. The ringleader Philip (Neil Bird) has recently lost his wife and home, and brings in two fellow sometime salesmen, John (James Petherick), who has been sacked from his 18-year-long job selling office supplies because of fiddling his expenses, and Dave (Ian Attfield), a photocopier salesman with a high-maintenance girlfriend, to help him.
The first act is all exposition: who are these people and what are they planning? It's full of convoluted detail, but short on real atmosphere or menace. Mawdsley tries to pump up the intrigue by bringing on John's wife and Dave's girlfriend, themselves in the dark as to what's going on, and sets up a moral conflict between them all as to what's right and wrong after the heist happens.
But Mawdsley's characters have neither the macho desperation of those created by the likes of David Mamet (let alone the fast-talking dialogue) or the seedy menace of those created by Harold Pinter, and the play that contains them is as grey, shapeless and mediocre as their lives are described as being.
- Mark Shenton