Rather unfortunately, we found ourselves seated near an audience member who had paid and was vocally dissatisfied with their choice of evening entertainment from about the third line in, right to the interval, which was a pain (it's a wonder the ushers never had a word, because it was constant!). Admittedly, the scene-setting was a little over-laboured, and the characters were well established by the time the plot got going, but it wasn't that bad. In fact, it was pretty good overall.
Family, friendships and honour are tested In Patrick Marber's (Closer, Notes On A Scandal) brilliantly funny story of male camaraderie and obsession, set in the gritty world of amateur poker.
When first staged at the National Theatre in 1995 the play won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy. This new production is directed by Michael Longhurst, who recently directed Constellations in the West End, winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Play and receiving four Olivier nominations.
View the teaser trailer here.
Sweeney is the most interesting character: a chef, who has a kid and some hopes of making a decent go of being a dad, much to the chagrin of his colleagues, as parental duties are threatening to interfere with the game of poker they are planning to play. Mugsy, a waiter, is an imbecile, who is dreaming big and planning to go into business with Carl, son of the boss, Stephen. Frankie, another waiter and Sweeney's flatmate, is a bit of a wide boy, but is seemingly happy to just be cooler than Mugsy. There is some interesting subtext going on between Frankie and Sweeney that is not fully explored, but hints at a greater potential to this story than the simple trap that the characters all find themselves in. Clearly, this is the pond these fishes are swimming in, and they're not going anywhere. They need something to break the surface, and that comes in the form of Carl's mysterious friend, Ash.
The first half is set in a split stage view of the kitchen in which three of the characters work (well, one does, the others just get in his way), and the restaurant, enabling some fast-paced scene switches. The set is a simple baize-green background with a yellow dividing line, and lighting and sound effects used to go from scene to scene, reminiscent of televised poker. The rough and ready theatre walls are used to great effect in the second half, where we transfer action to the basement for a game of poker. This is a lot pacier, and lighting and soundtrack are used in a very filmic way to show the passage of time and emphasise the emotional highs and lows of gambling. It's cool and stylish and very reminiscent of some of Guy Ritchie's films.
Ultimately, this banter-filled escapade is tragedian in scope. We have a bunch of men who have known each other for years and still can't talk to each other, and who hold each other back. Because the actual game is central to the production, we can't see how the characters' lives work out once they leave the table, which leaves unresolved story threads (in a way, that's goods, because it caused some discussion afterwards with friends as to what might have happened to those characters). This also brings the focus back to just two characters, ensuring their conflict is central to the story.
Despite being overlong in the first half this is a neat production and an interesting vignette of male relationships, with some definite laugh out loud moments, and we had a great time watching it. I believe there are other deals on and some tickets at full price are only £10, so if this sounds like your cup of tea, then enquire with the theatre.