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The Debt Collectors (tour – Bury St Edmunds)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The first fruit of the partnership between playwright John Godber and Wakefield’s Theatre Royal is a ripe one – in more than one sense of the word. Two out-of-work actors (swearing like troupers) find a new career, collecting for the distinctly dodgy agency which has been tasked with getting the cash owed to various purveyors of the must-haves of modern consumer society .

On one mission they find themselves backstage in a theatre whose resident producer has obviously gone bankrupt, leaving behind a miscellany of dilapidated flats and props. It just happens to be the theatre in which they once took to the boards in The Dumb Waiter. So part of this is about role-play, part is a sequence of theatrical in-jokes and most of it is a wry commentary on whole layers of a country living on credit, but not paying the bill.

Both Rob Hudson as Spud, the bruiser of the pair – a man who has type-cast himself out of future employment – and William Ilkley as Loz – the usefully generic middle-age, middle-range one – are very good, with Ilkley making an extremely fine thing of his second-act tirade against the world of show business which he has loved, but which has never really returned the appreciation he craved.

Designer Pip Leckenby gives us a stage manager’s nightmare of a set, all dilapidated clutter through which out hapless heroes thread their lead-nowhere paths. Both Hudson and Ilkley are very funny as they become some of the character-types on whose doors they knock in their search to find someone, anyone who will pay up.

That quest is mirrored n the story of Spud’s collapsed marriage, to a wife who wed a television star in the making but has now exchanged the older has-been for a younger, better-suited model, taking their daughter with her. The theatre, Godber seems to be telling us, is a place of illusion. So of course is so much of 21st century life in the “affluent: West.


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