Dumb Show, Rose Theatre, Kingston

2.00

Celebrity satire lacks real bite

From topical to trite is a short step but a fatal one.

In the six years since the premiere of Joe Penhall's play, celebrities have become even more like the servants in Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's poem Axel who "do our living for us." On the way to the theatre, I read about a new device that, for less than £2, allows proles to see where their gods have just eaten so they can visit their restaurants and "book the same table". But when vicarious hedonism turns into envy, it demands vicarious moralising, so the press, as we have often seen, incites its readers to stone the celebrity on his fall from grace and sometimes gives him a push. The TV star of Dumb Show and the two tabloid reporters who lure him into disgracing himself are figures now so familiar to us that the play lacks whatever shock and bite it may once have had.

A lack of sharpness and surprise in the writing is compounded by Stephen Unwin's lacklustre production. At the beginning it appears to be aiming at a poetically heightened reality in the eerily chiming blandishments of Emma Cunniffe's Liz and Dexter Fletcher's Greg, who, pretending to be bankers, woo Sanjeev Bhaskar's Barry. But the chilliness and menace soon wear off, and the performances, like the play, turn into a series of pulled punches. Bhaskar, in particular, is an odd choice for the charismatic comic, "Mr. Saturday Night", a role in which one expects a loose-limbed, endlessly inquisitive, repulsive-yet-mesmerising charmer with an unpredictability that at times veers excitingly close to danger. In Bhaskar, however, we get, instead of a Michael Barrymore on speed, a dead-eyed, surly Peter Sellers. When his Barry realises the trick that has been played on him, one expects an explosion of rage and panic; Bhaskar's reaction is less suggestive of infamy than indigestion.

Dexter Fletcher's floppy-haired faux-bonhomie is more entertaining, as is his transformation from corporate poodle to tabloid terrier. But Emma Cunniffe lacks the hard glamour of the type of woman who would be used as bait in such a sting, and her character is not convincing as a heartless minx coolly taking aim at the comic from her redoubt of institutional smugness. Both the reporters and their scheme have a casual, amateurish air, unlike the fast-talking ones of real life, who are so sensitive to the smell of blood you can almost see their nostrils quiver and hear them whine. When Liz praises the comic with "Excellent! That's really... you know...", the line satirises mindless hero-worship but the character just sounds inept. Nor do Barry's misdeeds seem very shocking – drunk and supposedly showing us his dark side, he sourly complains about his boring fans, feebly puts his arms around Liz, and, rebuffed, buries his nose in some happy dust. The blindingly flashing lights with which Unwin begins each new scene might be commenting on the play's contrasting lack of excitement.

To 17 April (0871 230 1552)

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before