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Review Round-up: Braff gets brush-off from critics

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Zach Braff of Scrubs and Garden State fame has brought his new comedy All New People to the West End following a short national tour.

Braff, who makes his playwriting debut with the play, also makes his London stage debut in the ten-week run at the Duke of York's Theatre.

Set in New Jersey getaway Long Beach Island in the dead of winter, All New People centres on Charlie (Braff), a heartbroken 35-year-old whose perfect escape is interrupted by a motley parade of misfits (played by Eve Myles, Susannah Fielding and Paul Hilton).

Michael Coveney

"The opening image is brilliant: a guy on his birthday with his head in a noose standing on a table next to a box of Cheerios. That guy is Zach Braff, playing Charlie Bloom … in playing his own lead (he didn’t do so Off-Broadway last year), he may realise he forgot to write himself enough good speeches to keep Charlie fully in the picture … Structurally, the 90-minute play is either awkward or audacious, I’m not sure which … The comedy ... lacks the glue of his own existential angst, or any explanation for his moroseness. Despite all the attention of Peter DuBois’ direction, and all the good gags, the show doesn’t hang (sic) together or pack a big punch. Still, I enjoyed it as an American lifestyle satire. Braff is an immensely likeable and alert comic performer in his goofy reactions and smart silver suit, and Eve Myles and Susannah Fielding are cheerfully inventive throughout … Especially good is Paul Hilton as the wacky fireman … And on the film sequences, flashed up in full to fill the proscenium arch, there are collectable city centre cameos from David Bradley, Amanda Redman and Joseph Millson."

Michael Billington

"What promises to be a savagely black comedy turns into a muddled, meandering affair that reeks of self-gratification … Attempted self-slaughter can, somewhat surprisingly, be a rich subject for comedy ... But, after a lively beginning, all Mr Braff has to offer is a series of bromides … Braff punctuates the action with a series of film clips revealing everyone's back-story. Whatever happened, I wondered, to the art of exposition? One or two lines hint at Braff's comic talents … But what finally undoes the play is its mixture of sentimentality and sexism … Peter DuBois handles the action capably and the actors do all that is required of them. The talented Fielding seems content to play a male fantasy. Paul Hilton is suitably strange as the druggy firefighter and Eve Myles as Emma gives off the appropriate air of panic. As for Braff, you could say that he generously allows the other actors to motor the action … he also occupies a key upstage position for much of the evening. And when Emma finally says: 'You know you really are cute, Charlie,' I began to see the play for what it is: not merely a soggy reminder that we are all entitled to be unhappy but also an act of profound self-veneration."

Libby Purves
The Times

"Off Broadway, The New York Times found the play 'sensationally funny' and Variety called the suicide a 'priceless sight gag'. The play is written by (and here stars) Zach Braff. Its director, Peter Dubois, did well with Becky Shaw at the Almeida, and dark comic themes can be beguiling. This isn’t. It is the most aimless, pointless, immature play I have ever seen. The silver lining is that, if it flops, it will prove that cynical box-ticking isn’t enough. You can’t (or shouldn’t be able to) succeed just by targeting the disposable income and free evenings of drifting trendy urban youth, keeping a play to 90 minutes, setting it in an aspirational beach-house full of modern art, using soapy video inserts and generally holding up a soft-focus mirror to every dead-end narcotic and sexual self-indulgence of the age … Fielding has the best funny lines, and makes the most of them: whenever she speaks, the evening becomes briefly bearable, just as a thirsty explorer crawling across a desert might be glad of a puddle of camel piss … There is one nice line to take away, like a party-bag from the worst of evenings. 'Love,' moans Emma, 'is a fleeting thing, like trying to build a house of cards on the back of a squirrel.' Not actually true, but nicely put."

Ian Shuttleworth

Financial Times

"In a 90-minute evening that makes The Breakfast Club look like Ingmar Bergman, anything – alas – is possible. Braff or his producers evidently realised that his name as author alone would not be as bankable for a full West End production as it was for the off-Broadway premiere, and so the Scrubs star now also appears as his own central character … Braff has little to do beyond seethe quietly, but still does less than enough. Eve Myles witters a lot in an unfamiliar English accent; Braff’s remark in the programme that Myles is 'playing a British woman (though she is, in fact, Welsh!)' is typical of a handful of glaring errors of characterisation or plotting in his script. Paul Hilton is the designated Judd Nelson … Susannah Fielding nobly pretends she has no problem with the breathtakingly unsophisticated gags at her character’s expense. Peter DuBois directs, apparently. This is the sort of wild misjudgment that a couple of years ago would have been presented at the Arts Theatre in its days as one of the West End’s 'cursed' venues. It has been marketed with extreme lackadaisicality, as if on the assumption that critics and punters alike will jump through hoops to accommodate Braff. Some may do so. But as for going to see this production on its own merits . . . oh, you’re kidding!"

Fiona Mountford

Evening Standard

"When this unpleasantly glib American comedy about attempted suicide premiered off-Broadway last year, its writer Zach Braff didn't take the lead role. It's all change for the West End, however, which means the Scrubs star is now centre stage in the unfunny mess he's created. He spends the entire play looking awkward, even when the Brit with the back-story and the hooker with the heart tell him how cute he is, and has no one but himself to blame … we have to sit through this illogical nonsense, flatly directed by Peter DuBois, and wonder why actors as fine as Paul Hilton and Eve Myles are bothering with it … It's the sort of desperately zany play where no one thinks actually to ask Charlie what has driven him to such extremes on his 35th birthday. When the script belatedly lurches into another gear and Charlie confides in the fireman, Hilton is the one who emerges from the scene with quiet dignity. Hilton has salvaged so-called 'star' vehicles before and he'll undoubtedly do so again."

- McKenzie Kramer


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