Theatre: Well, bless my Soul

THE DEAD MONKEY WHITEHALL THEATRE LONDON

GOODNESS GRACIOUS! You can't go to the West End without tripping over a star. Kevin Spacey ignited The Iceman Cometh, Nicole Kidman is driving everyone crazy in The Blue Room, and who do I see walking out on stage in The Dead Monkey? Why, it's David Soul, the man who did for the belted wrap-around cardigan what Lana Turner did for sweaters.

The erstwhile Hutch of Starsky and... is Hank, the lumpen, feckless husband of Delores (Alexa Hamilton) who comes on like a white trash Mia Farrow on a bad day. Well, you'd be at sixes and sevens too if you were having a trauma about your pet monkey. Happily, casting directors have been spared the difficulty of tracking down a monkey with an Equity card and evenings free this autumn because, as the play opens, the poor benighted creature is lying dead on the coffee table.

During 15 years of barren marriage, the monkey has been their child substitute, but to Hank's horror, the aftermath of its demise reveals that Delores has been taking a more than motherly interest in the beast and earning a little extra housekeeping by charging people to watch.

Cue male outrage simmering with simian jealousy, not helped by the arrival of a punctilious, bizarre vet who is so impressed by Delores' way with animals that he offers her a job at the local zoo.

We're somewhere in the twilight zone between absurdist drama and surreal black comedy but Darke's script lacks the energy and invention to capitalise on either. I'm guessing here, but it is just possible that there's a half- way decent one-act play struggling to get out. After all, the language is more structured and, well, darker than this startlingly poor production lets on.

"We're living in the armpit of an opera singer's vest," exclaims Hank. Two scenes later, things have worsened and "we're living in the crotch of a ballerina's tutu".

Unfortunately, the direction is so appallingly slack that Darke's heightened comic approach to everyday language is barely articulated. I'm sorry, but there's more to the job than spotting a metaphor and having David Soul crouch ape-like around the set.

Oh yes... the set. I know their home is supposed to be run-down and cheap but there's a big difference between cheap and downright shoddy. I blame the producers, both of whom just happen to be playing the lead roles.

Perhaps they, too, are responsible for playing the text in so humdrum a manner and not, perhaps, Brennan Street (that's not an address, it's the name of the director). It is, however, his fault that the climactic male violence is robbed of its power because the fight direction is so resolutely unconvincing.

All three thought it might be a good thing to take this ramshackle fringe show into town, trading, we assume, on the reputation of its leading man. Frankly, I'd rather have spent the evening with Huggy Bear.

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