All Mouth @ Menier Chocolate Factory, London

cast list
Christopher Benjamin
Caroline Harker
Simon Chandler
Nigel Whitmey
James Russell

directed by
Jonathan Lewis
Stories, as a general rule, need to have a beginning, middle and an end. They need some degree of structure and shape; characters you can, if not empathise with, at least recognise. Unfortunately this rather aimless new comedy, by Jonathan Lewis and Miranda Foster at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is sadly lacking in all these qualities.

The play is set in the world of voice-over artists. Four jobbing actors rent a central London flat together, as a place to touch base and learn their lines, rather than a home in which to live. The eldest of the quartet, Digby Scott, is an old-school theatrical type, understandably delighted by a recent invitation to appear on Desert Island Discs, as it means he hasn’t quite fallen of the critical radar. Greg, an American, is preoccupied with auditioning for a recurring role on Eastenders. And the other two well the other two haven’t left much of a dent upon my memory. One was female, one was male; that much I know.

All four are concerned about an upcoming professional strike. Voice-over artists it seems are on the verge of being rendered obsolete by electronic voice-reproduction technology the only thing for it is to take to the streets with banners and donkey jackets!

The narrative meanders all over the place, picking up and then discarding various thinly sketched sub-plots as it goes. The main problem seems to be a lack of any sense of what the play is a satire, a farce (it has elements of both but can’t really be described as either) or what, if anything, it has to say.

The main plot strand, aside from the strike which is difficult to care about anyway, involves Rod a young chap who works as a cycle courier but dreams of making it big as an actor who wheedles his way into their lives. Digby, in particular, is quite smitten with the boy and sets about finding him an agent and treating him to dinners at Ivy. But could it be that Rod, with his innocent air and puppyish gaze, has an ulterior motive for being so friendly with the older man?

Well, yes, obviously. It’s the one thing that gives this play a little narrative bite, and even this initially promising set up is poorly developed; there is little sense of betrayal when Rod is revealed to be a manipulative character out for his own ends. In fact, there is really only one genuinely emotional and surprising moment in the play and that comes about as a result of Digby’s much hoped-for Desert Island Disks session.

Though the characters are rather one-note, they are at least well played, particularly by Christopher Benjamin, as Digby; James Russell is also quite endearing as the young interloper Rod. But a couple of nuanced performances are not enough to dig this out of its hole. I’m sure there are more than enough egos and absurdities in the advertising/acting worlds to make a superb satire, but as it is, All Mouth just screams: ‘work-in-progress.’ In the opening scene, much is made of Digby’s black eye, acquired after an attempt to pick up a dishy young builder went awry, but this is never mentioned again. At one point, Greg announces to his friends: “I have tinnitus” in a bizarrely dramatic fashion, but this too is never mentioned again. These constant narrative cul-de-sacs soon become tiresome.

Well below the Menier’s usual high standards, the characters don’t grow or develop in any real way and the whole thing feels in a need of damn good re-write.

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