The Dead Monkey at the Whitehall Theatre

It s a terrible word, a horrible feeling that creeps over you when you first get a glimpse of David Soul. Once the super-cool ‘70s undercover cop of TV s Starsky and Hutch, now an overweight, haggard, middle-aged man reduced to playing in, let s be frank, a woesome stage play. And there s the word, hissing in the back of your mind - has-been.

The feeling is compounded when you see Soul in The Dead Monkey playing another has-been, Hank, who, as a young stud surfer, ruled the Californian waves. Now, 15 years later (or in Hank s case, what looks like 30), Hank is a washed up travelling salesman living in a dilapidated beach shack. The only connections Hank still has to a happier past are his pet monkey, who used to ride the waves with him, and his bimbette wife Dolores (Alexa Hamilton). This is the set up for the opening scene, the monkey lying dead on the table. Good grief, now there s no monkey, what is going to keep Hank and Dolores together? What indeed - and, really, who cares?

Nick Darke originally wrote The Dead Monkey as a one-act play and he should have left it at that - there s just not enough meat on the bones of this play to occupy anyone for two hours. We can t possibly care about the characters first of all - they re just caricatures of American trailer trash as conjured in the mind of a British playwright. Tellingly, though the actors are all American, the accents and dialogue still sound false - a kind of overacted and over here.

Then there s the ‘action which Darke attempts to pad out with bestial revelations, the introduction of a curly-haired pet pig and some quirky Tom Robbins type observations (“We re living in the crotch of a ballerina s tutu”). While initially, this all comes across as curiously quirky it soon unravels drearily. The concluding bouts of violence come more as relief than shock - finally something to break the tedium.

Soul and his real-life partner Hamilton along with James Terry as the freakish vet try to battle through but to little avail. They certainly aren t helped by Brennan Street s slack direction. The second act is drawn out interminably, one scene limping into the next with no tension and long yawning silences.

What makes matters even worse is that the indignity heaped on Soul is entirely self-inflicted. He and Hamilton produce as well as star in The Dead Monkey; they are responsible for resurrecting it after its short run on the fringe s New End Theatre earlier this year. God forgive them.

Terri Paddock