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Dumb Show

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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First seen in 2004, Joe Penhall's three-hander now seems both prescient yet also out-dated, its central protagonist Barry – a primetime TV comic masking marital problems and a drug habit – rather quaint in the wake of recent tabloid scandals involving the likes of John Terry and Tiger Woods.

As a play it struggles to match the intelligence of Blue/Orange, Penhall's 2000 multi award-winner, and undermines its message thanks to some predictable plotting and the stereotypical nature of its characters.

The action is set in a plush hotel room, where Barry falls victim to a journalistic entrapment. Whereas Sven was caught out by fake sheikhs, Barry's undoing comes in the form of two 'bankers', Greg and Liz, offering to “take care of everything” with a lucrative golden handshake.

Barry, forgetting the basic rule of media stings ('if it looks too good to be true, they're probably from the News of the World'), agrees, before recklessly living up to a series of celebrity clichés as he offers drugs to Liz, confesses his domestic woes and, of course, attempts to bed her.

As a TV comic himself, Sanjeev Bhaskar brings clear empathy to Barry (originally played at the Royal Court by Douglas Hodge), though he never quite rings true. Despite a natural adeptness at the many one-liners - acidly telling the journos “if Jesus Christ was alive today you'd be going through his bins” - he struggles to capture the requisite sense of tragic delusion.

As the utterly soulless Greg and Liz, Dexter Fletcher and Emma Cunniffe work well together, even if the characters are little more than ciphers through which Penhall channels his disgust for the gutter press.

Stephen Unwin's production is perfectly enjoyable in parts (despite some clunky transitions), and even has some expenses scandal references thrown in for topicality. But all told it's a rather underwhelming evening, climaxing in a fittingly dumb closing line.


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