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Wet Weather Cover

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Oliver Cotton, a fine and dependable supporting actor who will be playing King Henry IV at the Globe this summer, wrote this slight piece about a couple of actors stuck in a trailer on a wet day’s slow film shoot over ten years ago; it was premiered in Los Angeles in 1999.

Now revived by director Kate Fahy (the actress making her debut in this capacity) and starring Michael “Jerry Springer” Brandon and Steve Furst - he of Lenny Beige and Orange cinema ads fame - it looks a little over-exposed on the high Arts stage in a huge grimy caravan designed by Tanya McCallin and never hits home with full force.

Brandon is Brad, a bumptious American, playing Cortes, or Pizarro as he was known in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, conqueror of the Aztek empire. Furst is his second, Stuart, a phlegmatic Englishman, playing a priestly accomplice who keeps his bald wig dry under a plastic rain hood.

They are on location in Spain. The director has dysentery, the food is lousy, the rain incessant. They are bored, miserable, tiresomely self-obsessed, and lumbered with a rotten script. And they are plagued with a mincing Spanish-speaking production assistant in denim mini-shorts, Pepe (hilarious Pepe Balderrama), who is their only semi-human link with the set.

Cotton is not asking an audience to feel sorry for actors but is obviously airing a few grievances acquired in bitter experience. The exchange about verse and prose speaking which ends in a ringing speech from Richard II is deeply felt and cleverly grafted onto an altercation about stage acting on either side of the Atlantic.

Despite good acting and attentive direction, the play never goes that extra distance as either comedy or farce. Stuart’s taste for the vodka bottle is a surprise twist but also a dead end. Pepe is never wrapped fully into the situation.

And when the actors set out to improve the film with their own version of it, you miss the pungency and incisiveness of the Orange ads where Furst writhes so brilliantly as a thick-skinned, deferential yes man.

- Michael Coveney 

NOTE: The following THREE STAR review dates from January 2010, and this production's premiere at the King's Head Theatre.

The rain in Spain lands mainly on the clapped-out caravan, according to Oliver Cotton's debut play, which sees two actors stuck on location during the filming of a tawdry biopic of the conquistador Cortes.

Cotton has taken the old mantra of 'write about what you know' to heart. An experienced and accomplished performer, his play centres entirely on the process of acting and the nature of 'the biz' – something that puts the production in danger of disappearing up its own culo.

It wasn't a surprise to see Terry Gilliam among the first night guests, as the premise evokes strong parallels with the brilliant documentary Lost in La Mancha, which follows Gilliam's doomed attempts to film an adaptation of Don Quixote. Here, as then, myths about the glamour of filmmaking are exposed, while questions about the basic sanity of those who seek to make them are raised.

By setting classically-trained British actor Stuart (Steve Furst) against swaggering American Brad (Michael Brandon, last on stage as the National's original Jerry Springer), Cotton also examines the differing heritages and resultant statuses of the two countries. Stuart, although affiliated with Marlowe and Shakespeare, is painfully aware of his subjugation to Brad, a troubled Hollywood heavyweight in whose trailer he is a guest. As Brad points out in one of his many broadsides: “Shakespeare's just about the only thing your country's got left”.

The action takes place entirely in the confines of a real caravan, skilfully mounted by designer Tanya McCallin on the miniature King's Head stage. Despite the continental setting, the atmosphere is of a wet weekend in Bognor, and the decision to set the action in Spain seems predominantly driven by the opportunity it affords to provide light relief in the form of Pepe (Pepe Balderrama), Brad's camp dresser who minces in, shouts in Spanish, and flounces out with repetitive regularity.

There are some astute observations, particularly on the state of British acting and filmmaking, and Brandon and Furst both turn in skilled comic performances. Kate Fahy, making her directorial debut, effectively utilises the limited confines of the set (aided by fight directing supremo Terry King), choreographing some neat physical gags – including a welcome abstract sequence in which Brandon, to fill time, mimes saddling and riding a horse.

But the play is a little short on these moments of invention, and overly reliant on well-trodden actor stereotypes (booze-addled luvs with fragile egos). While Wet Weather Cover certainly raises some insider laughs, and is a recommended night out for resting actors everywhere, others may feel left out the loop.

- Theo Bosanquet


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