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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Priory
Royal Court Theatre      Winter 2009-2010

Michael Wynne's new play at the Royal Court is a comedy that isn't particularly funny and a serious drama whose characters you'll have trouble believing in, much less caring for.

There are a few laughs - about as many as in a not-particularly-good sitcom episode - but the overall impression is of a talented and hard-working cast let down by their playwright and their director.

A thirty-something woman who's had a lousy year has invited three male friends to a New Year's Eve party in a rented country house (cue several feeble jokes about how scary it is out in the woods) her lover, her obligatory gay best friend and a third guy of no discernible personality.

Things are complicated when each brings a plus-one. The gay guy smuggles in a bit of rough trade he met on the internet, the third man introduces an airheaded bimbo he met yesterday and is engaged to (and his character's function becomes clear - he's just there to get her into the play). And worst of all, the lover's wife has decided to come along.

The opportunities for farce are all there, and there are moments of someone walking in one door just as someone goes out another, or of signals frantically sent behind someone's back.

At least one character does a lot of secret drinking, three others keep sneaking offstage to snort some cocaine, and for some reason the guys get into drag for one scene.

And very little of it works, almost entirely because director Jeremy Herrin shows no affinity for farce, so that the snap and tight choreography the form demands are missing.

Repeatedly, moments of just-missed screw-ups that should delight us with their perfect timing go by so languidly you hardly notice the gag.

Lines that should generate panic or sputtering double-takes (like the airhead's repeated foot-in-mouth gaffes) just lie there, and characters who are supposed to be getting comically drunker or higher are never particularly worse for wear.

Such consistency of missing the joke puts the blame wholly on the director rather than the actors.

Meanwhile, the play is also trying to be a dissection of the angst beneath the surface of seemingly successful thirty-somethings. At least three characters have their secret failures exposed, two fail or betray someone they claim to love, and one attempts suicide.

But the writing and direction do not allow any of them to transcend stereotype (or, in the case of that third guy, have any character at all), so it is very difficult for us to feel their pain or care about them.

And what appears to be the play's message, voiced in the last seconds by the hostess as 'I'm giving it all up. All the striving for some big thing....Waiting for some future time when I'm going to be happy....This is it. This is it and this is alright.,' seems to have very little to do with the play that has come before it.

The hard-working performers do what they can with what they've been given, with Jessica Hynes (hostess), Joseph Millson (gay friend) and Charlotte Riley (airhead) coming closest to moments of reality or successful comedy.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  The Priory - Royal Court Theatre 2009
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