Menagerie’s Stand by Your Van is a play that totally captures the guilty pleasure genre that now that engulfs our televisions: busting with primetime TV energy, we watch time tick down on a bizarre endurance test with 12 equally bizarre contestants. The prize: a shiny new truck. The rules: you must keep your hand on the truck at all times, if you let go, you’re out.Plot-wise, it’s very clear where this piece is going from the start, and consequently the enjoyment comes from the mix of characters and comic twists. Playwright Anna Reynolds has written several different endings, so the winner may change depending on when you go, and the characters are delivered with enough light and shade amid the comedy to give you several favourites.
In the set of contestants, we have the obligatory female eye-candy (Katherine Bennett-Fox), the confused OAP (Viv Moore), the wannabe east end wideboy (Theo Herdman) and the welsh bumpkin (Neil Jones) to name but a handful, all brought together by our host, Phil ‘the lip’ (Darren Strange). Channelling the spirit of the Lord of Daytime TV, Jeremy Kyle, he whips the willing audience into a panto-like frenzy of cheers and ‘aaaah’s as the characters get knocked out one by one.
It is entertaining stuff, but as the characters can’t move away from the truck, the action is visually very limited and the energy understandably wanes with that of the contestants, despite director Paul Bourne’s attempts to re-energise the piece with bursts of pounding pop. What keeps you with the contest is the interaction between the characters; the glimmers of romance, dirty dealings and frustrated dreams that have led them all to this sad and desperate spot.
Stand by Your Van isn’t life-altering; but it’s a perfect piece of festival fun – with enough heart, laughs and a firm finger on the pop pulse to pack the pleasance each night.
- Tanith Lindon
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