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The VIP Lounge (Salford)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Four workmates are rewarded for exceeding sales targets with an expenses paid club class trip. Congregating in the VIP lounge they nurse hangovers, regret sexual indiscretions and generally moan about each other’s behaviour. But they are being manipulated by a demonic presence seeking someone to fulfil a terrible destiny.
Written and directed by Mike Heath, The VIP Lounge is an unfocused and heavy-handed play. The characters represent negative aspects of modern culture. Elaine (Suzanne Fulton) and Kev (Garry Hayden in a fine professional debut) are sated into submission by, respectively, celebrity gossip and drugs whilst Ange (Katherine Godfrey) is blindly ambitious and babbles meaningless managerial doublespeak.

But rather than use his characters to analyse the state of the nation Heath builds a conspiracy theory linking the 9/11 attacks, the war on terror, the recession and even the increase in worker exploitation. The result is a breathless rush of ideas that skims across themes without examining any of them.
The need to cover such a wide range of topics limits the discretion that Heath allows his cast. Characterisation does not develop from the performance but is described verbally by the demon Chowder (Darren Scott). This pushes the audience towards passivity – we don’t need to think about what might happen or how the characters might react as this is just explained to us. The cast do the best they can within such restrictions – Fulton and Hayden bring some much-needed humour to the play. Scott’s psychotic demon is a menacing presence who could switch from urbanity to violence any second; but the devil is supposed to have the best tunes and he lacks truly memorable dialogue.
Heath sets an uncertain mood for the play, as the opening is not sufficiently comedic to lull the audience into a false sense of security so the initial abrupt intervention from Chowder confuses rather than startles. The show does not develop with sufficient drama to make clear when scenes are reaching a climax. There are a number of ill-conceived ideas. At the conclusion Chowder spells out his plot in laborious detail whilst being circled by the cast in a half-hearted dance.
Ultimately, The VIP Lounge is a frustrating experience that wastes the efforts of a fine cast.
 - Dave Cunningham

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