The last new play Nica Burns produced at the King’s Head, she boasts in the programme, was Toby Young and Lloyd Evans’ Who’s the Daddy? – so Alistair McGowan’s debut drama can only mark an improvement in her relationship with the struggling fringe theatre.
Timing’s not going to loom large in any awards ceremonies, but there are some fairly funny bits in the London voice-over studio where copywriters, actors, sound engineer and producer Leonie – a preppy Sloane, deliciously played by Louise Ford – gather to make an advert for a new sat-nav system.
McGowan has been a man of many parts, and voices, in his time but his latest impression as a playwright is not yet as good as his David Beckham. Director Tamara Harvey’s snappy direction can’t prevent the show sagging horribly in the middle – and it’s only 90 minutes long – and the suggestion that a crucifixion might be the only thing worse than a warm beer proves that good jokes are much harder than clever mimicry.
The critical dissection by the writers of their precious 30-second text – later cut to 20 – as the actors on the other side of the screen wrestle with interpretative nuancing, emphases and accents, is the mainspring of the comedy, though the mood darkens with personal tensions and revelations.
The actors-for-hire, Julian and Amanda, are unexpectedly reunited after a seven-year separation during which Julian has agonised over his non-paternal status and Amanda has hit the big-time in EastEnders. The triviality of their work is shaded with deeper regrets: toothily stylish Edward Baker-Duly and carelessly enraptured Georgia Mackenzie expertly allow their guilt and affection to seep back into the room.
The two writers, one aggressively Scottish (Peter Hamilton Dyer), the other quietly painstaking (Dean Gaffney), are themselves on the brink of separation, while Paul Bazely’s seen-it-all sound engineer soaks up the temperamental outbursts and Matt Cross’ studio dogsbody, exclaiming in Rasta street argot, innit, nurses a foolish crush on daddy’s girl Leonie.
The split stage technique of simultaneous scenes puncturing each other is something which only works when done brilliantly; there are too many unlikely pauses. But Lucy Osborne’s sleek orange design is some compensation for the hiccups in structure and fluency.