Better brace yourself for some shattering news: literary agents are people who don’t really like books, try and avoid meeting “loser” clients, and exhibit a tendency for going out to lunch and taking the odd glass of wine.
I know; it’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? Like having all your illusions shattered on the environmental responsibility of property developers, the chaste lifestyle of international tennis stars or the intellectual probity of theatre critics.
And yet for what seem like seventy very long minutes, Martin Wagner’s merciless two-hander – arriving in the smaller, coffin-like second of the Trafalgar Studios from the Old Red Lion – piles up the incriminating evidence against blond, couldn’t-care-less Alexander (William Beck), who is trapped in his office by nerdy, intense Stephen (Stephen Kennedy), a twitching novelist suffering a crisis of confidence and dress sense.
Stephen’s first novel has disappeared without trace. His second, called “Black,” is about miners; at least, I think it is. It might be about “minors” and have a nasty paedophiliac strain, but the book itself, of course, is never discussed in detail, and not just because Alexander hasn’t read it.
Wagner the dramatist makes no case for the talent of the wimpish wordsmith, so his fate, and that of the book, is of no concern to us whatsoever. Instead, there just hangs over the play a rather nasty taste of righteousness, as if anyone who writes anything deserves to be published by a literary establishment supposedly impervious to the claims of the ordinary bloke in the street in possession of a sheet of paper and a pencil.
We all know that there are far too many bad novels published already, for all sorts of silly reasons, and that a general embargo on the publishing of any more novels by people we’ve never heard of for the next ten years would be an excellent thing. I don’t feel the same way about plays; or at least I didn’t until this one came along.
The playwright makes a point of saying – in a sub-title – that The Agent is “based on an original meeting.” He should have got over that and written about something else. As it is, Stephen comes up with a bribe based on some photographic evidence about Alexander’s private life that prompts a phoney bidding war for his second novel and a surprise upshot.
The upshot of the upshot is that Alexander reveals himself to be even nastier than we hitherto suspected, but not as nasty as the artistic creep with the knapsack and the personal hygiene problem. Wagner’s dull dialogue is directed with a straight face by Lesley Manning and acted with unreasonable brio and commitment by Beck and Kennedy.