Hats off to the Criterion for a) running a programme of Olympics-related talks and performances and b) animating a West End theatre in the afternoons, part of an ongoing initiative by producers Samuel Hodges and Natalie Macaluso.
Hodges has directed the better of these two short plays, Serge Cartwright’s After the Party, in which two wasted East End losers set up a burger stall (in a dilapidated NHS van) in the shadow of the Olympic stadium only to be ripped off by the Panamanian team’s sexy physiotherapist who semi-seduces one of them and robs the other.
Cartwright, son of novelist Justin, writes in a spirit of impromptu reaction to the games, giving a low life, Ben Jonsonian alternative to the background drone of David Cameron triumphalism; Sean’s girlfriend is pregnant and he’s teetering on the brink of a last warning about drugs and drink in his deejay life in Leyton low spots.
And he’s very well played by Richard Riddell, flanked by David Fynn as his meaty mate, Sophie Cosson as the end-of-her-tether pregnant Chelle and Kate Lamb as the physio (doubling as a hilariously ludicrous gangsta-rap-talking Chelle chum).
The play needs fleshing out to a fuller length. It definitely needs a better ending, as does the much slighter, and more disappointing, Taking Part by Adam Brace, in which a Congolese swimmer (Obi Abili) snares a clapped-out Russian coach (Paul Moriarty) in Kinshasa with a view to qualifying and making a political statement at the London games.
The writing is elliptical to the point of anorexia, and Charlotte Gwinner’s production only stretches this skinniness. The jumps are too great between developments in the sportsman/coach relationship, and there’s no dramatic gain in the attempt at dependency reversal as the coach’s estrangement from his own son comes into play.
Nice try, though, and it will be interesting to see if the Criterion attracts any sort of afternoon audience; or will they have to send in the army?