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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