Dolly Dhingra’s new play just misses several marks. It is almost well-structured; it nearly succeeds as a comment on the consumer society; it might have been a nail-biting heist drama or a witty comedy but isn’t quite either; it is a study in friendship, but tugged in too many directions to explore its complicated relationships satisfactorily.
Seven young people - six Asian and one African-Caribbean - all intelligent, ambitious and articulate, become a highly successful bunch of fraudsters. Six of them know each other well and meet in the dilapidated pub owned by the father of Gilly, whose girlfriend Priya and her fantasist, would-be-actress, sister Renu are moving in as the play begins. No-one else darkens its doors, even on New Year’s Eve. And that is when the long-lost friend of Renu, who hasn’t been heard of for a decade, turns up.
Simmy is beautiful, has a job in city finance, but - isn’t this a bit odd? - goes looking for forgotten East End chums on the big party night of the year. She isn’t, however, the upsetting stranger of traditional drama, although she does facilitate the plot. Simmy handles the American Express accounts of some of the biggest celebrity names you might come across in a decade’s dedicated Hello! browsing. A plan emerges through the illicit celebratory smoke: adopt the identities of the rich and taste their lifestyle. All goes well until they become greedy and decide to relieve a Los Angeles jeweller of £10 million-worth of diamonds in the name of a Brunei royal.
The acting is patchy but Natalia Campbell as Priya does well in managing to be the voice of common sense without being tedious and she alone undergoes a real emotional upheaval. Zaq (Alex Caan) is a delightful character in the first scene, an easygoing jack-the-lad who is a brilliant cook and a terrific friend. He arrives at the New Year gathering in a fancy dress sheikh outfit the folds of which conceal exotic foodstuffs liberated from Harrods. But he seems to be someone else entirely once the plotting begins: highly organised and shorter on charm than the lad with a jar of truffles down his pants.
You know from the beginning that the gang will get their comeuppance, but there is plenty of opportunity for tension on the way. Some of this works: you do want to know what happens next. The main problem is that there is too much plot and Kully Thiarai, the director, has not taken a tough, clear line through the distractions. A garbled back story surfaces very late in the proceedings to explain the presence of a gun which becomes important in the final stages. The incident involving this weapon should be heart-stopping, but on the press night it got a lot of laughs: the tone simply wasn’t sufficiently clear and a potentially chilling moment was dissipated.
Neither play (part of the Bloomberg New Writing for New Audiences scheme) nor production (in association with Leicester Haymarket) is as tightly controlled as the criminal plotting of the Fortune Club.
- Heather Neill (reviewed at the Tricycle Theatre)