Otherwise Engaged, Criterion Theatre, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Simon Hench, a publisher pushing 40, has set aside a day to spend alone at home listening to his new recording of Parsifal. We see him open this precious purchase, place the first disc on the turntable, and commune with the opening bars - whereupon his peace is violated by his lodger (Liam Garrigan), a yobbish Liverpudlian sociology student, who denounces Wagner as a proto-fascist before characteristically cadging a fiver.

This is the cue for a non-stop succession of interruptions from distressed folk who need the concern and reassurance that Simon can only politely dissemble, because he is always otherwise engaged. These include his brother, Stephen (Peter Wight), a minor public school teacher with an inferiority complex, and his friend Jeff, an ageing hired gun of Grub Street, whose drunken disenchantment with literature and foreigners is hilariously conveyed in the excellent performance of Anthony Head.

Swiftly following come Jeff's much younger, poisonously ambitious girlfriend, Davina (Amanda Ryan), who is willing to bare her breasts and more for the chance of being published; Wood, a sexually arrested schoolfellow (David Bamber) whose fiancée, chosen because of her resemblance to Simon, has just been rogered by him; and his unfaithful wife, Beth (Amanda Drew).

In the encounters between Simon and his visitors, the mess of living is hurled against an order and control that have been bought at a price that the protagonist is too sealed-off to appreciate. He's the kind of man whose imperturbable poise drives others frantic. Unfortunately, Richard E Grant doesn't have the weight or the sense of irony needed for this role. He's bland and non-stick, like Teflon.

The rest of the cast, though, are spot-on. Amanda Drew superbly projects the indignant hurt of the underestimated wife, and David Bamber skilfully radiates the moral BO of the aggrieved masochist. Showing how life catches up even with the doyens of self-management, this is - despite the central miscasting - a rewarding evening.

To 28 January (0870 060 2313)

Comments