There's a brief moment, near the start of this mixed-up production, when it looks like it's about to veer into Six Characters In Search Of An Author. In the end, it doesn't go there – but it's certainly a show in search of a theme. There are hints of absurdism, an in-joke-heavy analysis of the creative process, and then – right in the middle of it all – a big old dollop of traditional music-hall.
The plot surrounds a highly-strung playwright who, in the midst of crippling writer's block, is visited by three actors. (And my goodness, how stereotyped these arty types are – one of them is literally wearing a beret.) After some spiky banter about the relationship between writers and performers, the author is challenged to write a plot in five minutes, which his visitors will improvise a show around. And so he sits down to pen the most crowd-pleasing play he can imagine… which rather strangely turns out to be a period melodrama, featuring naïve newlyweds, a pantomime baddy and Burlington Bertie from Bow.
The music-hall interlude is entertaining, and gently humorous – one running joke encourages you to predict just which famous number is the next to be shoe-horned into our writer's threadbare plot. The villain is deliciously villainous, the young couple are delightfully wide-eyed, and Burlington Bertie is appropriately carefree. It lacks polish, though; the dance moves are well-rehearsed but a little half-hearted, and the cast have variable singing abilities. As a good-natured parody it sort-of works, but it didn't quite take off like it could have done.
The framing story, in contrast, adds little. The writer is prone to over-worked lyrical monologues, many of which celebrate his own artistry; there's humour there, but for me that wasn't enough to overcome how utterly insufferable he is. At one point we kill time by watching the actors play improv games, which of course we know full well are entirely scripted. And at the end, it builds towards a moral of a kind – but I didn't quite understand how it had got there.
Overall, this show needs a lot of tightening and far more clarity of purpose. If they want to do music-hall, they should just do music-hall; the audience on the day I attended were certainly up for that. Or if they want to go meta and muse on the creative process, then I could live without the extended song-and-dance interlude. There are flashes of something interesting and clever here, but it will take more work to bring it out.