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Posted by : al_geary on Nov 04, 2005 - 07:34 PM Archive

by James Griffin.

Derby Playhouse: Tkts 01332 363275
Runs: 2h 40m: one interval: till 26 November 2005.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 5, h, 12, 16, 19 and 23 Nov 2.30pm.
Audio Described 19 Nov mat, 23 eve.
BSL Signed 19 mat, 24 Nov eve
Post-show Discussion 24 Nov.
Review: Alan Geary: 3 November.

Not so much a play within a play as a soap outside a soap. It bears comparison with Stoppard.

It takes a minute or two to click into this one. At first you think that the actors are a bit soapy. Andrea McEwan, for instance, as Elaine, indicates agreement by shaking her head and looking puzzled, the way they always seem to do in soaps.

But then you realise that James Griffin’s ingenious contrivance isn’t just a play within a play, which would be all in a day’s work. It’s not even a soap within a soap. It’s more of a soap outside a soap - and they’re both Australian.

The soap in question, the inner one, is Heart of Hearts, a turgid example of that genre set in St Celia’s Hospital - we get to see nine wonderfully funny snatches of it on a giant video screen in which the main actors double as the screen stereotypes.

Craig Parker is particularly adept at this. He’s completely convincing as nerdy-looking writer Matt and uproariously so as the OTT ham playing an improbably hunky character on screen.

But the real action happens in the writers’ room; the other half of the comedy springs from the fact that the back-stabbing shenanigans of the writing team are soapish. They all seem to have been in and out of broom cupboards with everyone else, two of them are divorced and there’s at least one lesbian relationship.

In fact, sex is the sole topic of conversation when they’re not working, which is most of the time. Perhaps for this reason, Hearts has hit the ratings rocks. Solution? - axe stock heart-throb Doc Gilligan, played by Andrew Lomas, played by Ben Steel. Trouble is Lomas doesn’t want to take an early bath.

Steel is seriously good as Lomas: he captures all the vain gesticulating and self-obsession that the layman [not the critic!] associates with actors.

As in all the best soaps, there’s a bolt-on cliff-hanger to ensure that we come back after the adverts… er… interval. And it’s in the second half that Mark Little, as Alan, makes his part come alight, with a long philosophical speech about the relationship between fiction and reality as he prowls around the huge writing table, when all along we’ve seen him as a cynical serial womaniser.

It seems aeons ago since down-under was regarded here as a cultural backwater. The play bears comparison with some of Stoppard, and this production does it credit.

Simone: Kate Atkinson.
Pauline: Rebecca Hobbs.
Alan: Mark Little.
Elaine: Andrea McEwan.
Matt Craig Parker.
Andrew: Ben Steel.
Sally: Julianne White.

Director: David Freeman.
Designer: Duncan Hayler.
Lighting: Alistair Grant.
Sound: Julian Brookes.
Composer/MD: Kelvin Towse.
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