Angry Young Man, Trafalgar Studios, London
Wednesday 16 January 2008
The synopsis of Ben Woolf's one-hour play (which he also directs) seems to promise a serious drama about "Yuri, a brilliant Eastern European surgeon", who comes to London and meets a man who offers him help and a trip to the country. "What they find there reveals some cold truths about England," and Yuri is forced "to choose between a life in Britain and his honour".
Yet how does this East-West confrontation actually play? The tone is set when, as Yuri is dismissed from his Russian hospital under a cloud, an actor remarks cheekily, "As they say, malpractice makes perfect!" The mood throughout is offhand and silly, and the point of reference is not the Britain of today but that of early Agatha Christie, one of those twitty thrillers about a power-mad secret organisation, based in a grand country house.
Four actors – Gary Shelford, Hugh Skinner, Alex Waldmann, and Hywel John – take turns being Yuri, but to no more purpose than to create a follow-the-bouncing-ball kind of movement as they criss-cross the stage. Yuri's nationality is indicated with scowls, lowered head, and a deep voice.
The one note of variety among the quartet, who wear identical brown suits, is Waldmann. While all the actors impersonate other characters besides Yuri, Waldmann takes the only female role, a dizzy type who starts wondering if her boyfriend is the right man for her when she notices Yuri's long, strong surgeon's hands.
Some of the comic situations are familiar, but they are executed in a limp, unconvincing way. For instance, the sinister Patrick befriends Yuri, asking him to pretend involvement in an African-aid scheme. When the wealthy backer says, "What's your idea?" Yuri is put on the spot – a classic comic situation, where we admire the cleverness or pluck of the subterfuge. Here, however, Yuri just croaks, "The duck" (he has been bonding with the ducks in the park), Patrick says, "Brilliant," and the backer is satisfied. Where's the wit? Or the reality?
It's hard to know what Angry Young Man intends besides a series of feeble wheezes and puerile jokes. Whatever this play is about, however, it's all intention and no effect, substituting rapid movement for quick – or any – thinking.
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