The actor Robert Bathurst, who plays Alex Masterley, a repellent investment banker in a one-man show based on a Daily Telegraph strip cartoon, sees his character as “the Indiana Jones of corporate finance”.
He has to keep extricating himself from tricky situations. And in Phelim McDermott’s ingenious mixed-media production – the cartoons are reproduced as interactive animated film on a battery of on-stage screens – he becomes a bemused participant in his own curious story.
Dinosaurs come into it – and they are hilarious – but the main drift concerns Alex’s professional status, his failing marriage, his relationship with an uncouth Northern industrialist Hardcastle (the fellow wears blue suits with brown shoes and turns up at Glyndebourne in a ruffled shirt and clip-on tie) and his dependency on a “Eurotrash” office junior Sebastien, who’s forged a carnal friendship with Hardcastle’s secretary,
It’s interesting that the authors Charles Peattie (drawings and animations) and Russell Taylor (words) cite Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money as their initial example. But whereas that play was a modern 1980s update of a Ben Jonson-style city satire, Alex is essentially a one-man gig with gags and visual effects. It’s very good, but it’s not great theatre.
Bathurst slides in and out of the cartoons – the video design is by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer for Fifty Nine Productions Ltd – with the consummate ease and style familiar to fans of his oleaginous lawyer in Cold Feet on television. He will reach for a condiment on a filmic table and produce it, like a rabbit in a hat, in one smooth movement.
Although his wife Penny looks like a cartoon refugee from a Posey Simmonds strip, he will try and build bridges by saying “let’s do lunch”. His monstrosity knows no bounds, his insensitivity no limit. He can’t have an affair, he moans, after his wife has called a halt, because there’s no one to cheat on, as if it’s her fault!
The root of the story is one of financial finagling and corruption, which gives the show a strong satirical backbone; the more we know, the less Alex thinks he’s doing wrong. This is really just a 75-minute high-class laugh-in for city boys, and as such could easily tap into a big pin-striped market. Have a drink, see the show, go for dinner: or the next deal.
Meanwhile, you feel that Robert Bathurst is marking time for his next big role. This is all a bit too easy for him, and he takes his foot off the pedal once he’s established Alex’s credentials. But next to Nigel Havers, he’s the smoothest “establishment” operator on our stage at the moment.