Jim Field Smith
A show featuring Les Dennis, improv king Mike McShane and the best tagline on the Fringe. How could it go (so) wrong?
Perhaps that opening gambit is a little glib. Having seen Dennis’s bravura performance on Extras, I went along with a genuine interest in how his new-found “serious actor” status might pan out in this new comedy by Guy Jones.
And of course, McShane, a veteran of numerous Edinburgh shows as well as Whose Line Is It Anyway?, is a great name to have on the cast list for any show billed as “funny”. Finally, the Fringe Programme got me chuckling (“the cult of celebrity requires sacrifices – but how do you dispose of the bodies?”), and so my expectations were high.
I was crestfallen then, to find this comedy thriller neither funny nor thrilling. Dennis plays scriptwriter Nick Chase, frustrated writer on the long-running fictional TV hospital drama “Healing Hands”, who wishes he was writing something more highbrow and worthwhile than a cheesy, mass-entertainment quasi-soap. Besieged on all sides by actor who are more interested in fame and their public image, Chase is als on the run from gangsters to whom he owes thousands of pounds of gambling debts. When he is invited to write an article that will pay off his debt, but which will mean betraying the sexuality of Healing Hands’s leading actor to the tabloids, he becomes a victim of murder.
This might sound a little like I have spoiled the plot twist. However, since writer Jones seems utterly uninterested in building tension or making anything out of the murder of Dennis’s character (the star of the show), I don’t really think I’m ruining it for you any more than he already has.
The use of flashbacks actively works against any attempts to make us concerned about the fate of the cast, and since the characters are so utterly unsympathetic, there really seems to be nothing at the stake for the audience, who may, like me, have just preferred them all to be arrested or die as quickly as possible.
The “comedy” is painfully unfunny, like a third-rate sitcom, but without the canned laughter to remind us to laugh. When, at the beginning, Les told the joke about the leprechaun (changed from “Irishman” for purposes of political correctness) who used two condoms “to be sure, to be sure”, I thought it might possibly be an ironic wink at his faded, variety-show TV past. But, sadly, I was wrong, with lame similes such as “as popular as an all-you-can-eat pork restaurant in Tel Aviv” being the pinnacle of the “humour” on offer. On this evidence, I can only speculate that the amusing tagline was actually written by the show’s publicist, rather than its writer.
At one point, Dennis as Chase describes Healing Hands as “dazzlingly mediocre”. “Anything done badly, lazily and cynically can retard us,” he says. Caveat speculum! Beware the reflection that is your own. “There are more important things than celebrity,” says Chase with bewildering inanity. And there are certainly a thousand things more important and entertaining than this show.