The Theatreguide.London Review
Gielgud Theatre Spring-Summer 2005
This short play is a vehicle for an American TV star - David Schwimmer of the long-running sitcom Friends - and so it will spend the summer drawing in all the tourists.
And since Schwimmer is onstage almost uninterruptedly, and he runs through his repertoire of familiar shtick, they'll get what they want and go away satisfied. And what is the harm in that?
The fact that the play is pretty poor and he is quite bad in it is really irrelevant.
The premise of Neil Labute's play is that a man approaching marriage goes back to visit four old girlfriends, to apologise for any harm he did them.
Very quickly and very repeatedly we see the playwright's major insight - that, as earnest as the man tries to be, he is totally blind and egocentric, with no real sense of the pain he caused each woman back then or the pain he's causing by his reappearance, and that all he really wants is their blessing and reassurance that he's basically a nice guy.
(A hint lies in the title, in that he repeatedly refers to one or another of them - even his fiancée - as just 'some girl'.)
While there are a few chuckles, then, this is not the light romantic comedy Schwimmer's fans might expect, and it is possible that some of them will be chastened by its dark vision.
Indeed, so unrelentingly vicious is the play's dissection of the male psyche - it would be nice, for example, if the main character were permitted to learn and change - that you may be tempted to check the programme and see if it wasn't written by a radical feminist misanthrope from the 1970s, and the only real giveaway is the way it schmaltzes out at the end.
As directed by David Grindley, Schwimmer begins the play startlingly badly, giving almost a parody of a badly-directed David Mamet performance, with all the tics, self-interruptions and stilted delivery.
He loosens up somewhat as things progress, and drops in enough familiar tics and deliveries to satisfy the audience.
(A friend who has actually never seen the TV show said afterwards that he now knows exactly what Schwimmer was like in Friends, since every time the audience laughed at nothing, it must have been a mannerism they recognised.)
The part isn't really much of a stretch for Schwimmer, but he doesn't stretch himself at all, never dipping below the surface to give any indication of the man's darker qualities - we see them through the women - or conveying any emotion beyond the sitcom level that was his stock-in-trade.
As the four women, each given a 25 minute scene with Schwimmer to portray characters responding to his return in different ways, Catherine Tate, Sara Powell, Lesley Manville and Saffron Burrows do fine jobs, though the play's focus is never really on them, but on his reactions to their reactions.
The idea in the play is better than the play itself, the play is better than the production as a whole, and the production is better than the star.
But, as I said, that hardly matters.
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