JESS HOWLEY-WELLS reviews Off The King’s Road at Jermyn Street Theatre.
Jermyn Street Theatre is a charming venue – a bijoux gem of a theatre tucked down beneath the bustle of Piccadilly Circus, seating 70 people at full capacity. This lends itself nicely to the intimacy of Noel Koenigsberg’s debut play Off The King’s Road. It is set in a small luxury guesthouse in central London, and follows the retired American Matt Browne’s week-long not-so-relaxing respite there following the death of his wife six months previously.
One of the primary strengths of the production is the set and the use of the space: it is a hotel room made up of opaque curtains and doorways, placing the audience in the role of voyeur, which gives the events a stylish level of credibility and realism. In this one room we see the most personal moments of grief and recovery for Matt (Michael Brandon), which are performed with delicacy and charm. The highlights of Brandon’s performance are in the gently humorous moments – particularly the laggy and awkward Skype calls with his psychiatrist back in California and his lewd disregard of the time difference – as opposed to the more bombastic. His loneliness is palpable and very touching.
The other characters are portrayed well. Ellen Mellman (Cherie Lunghi) the cat-obsessed co-resident (and eventual, predictable love interest for Matt), and Freddie (Luke Pitman) the concierge are funny but their characters, their energy, and the jokes that come with them feel a little recycled at times and bring to mind The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – good, funny, but it has been done before. Sheena (Diana Dimitrovici), the Russian prostitute lacks the humour and gravity of manner that might allow us to access the deeper themes of the play without crudeness.
All of this being said, there are many moments in the play that are distracting. Some exchanges are too clunky and the exposition is clumsy – why would Matt tell his psychiatrist that ‘My wife has been dead for six months’ (or something to the effect) after all this time? There are many moments like this that were very ‘tell don’t show’ as opposed to the more subtle ‘show don’t tell’ that made the play fray at the edges. The majority of these faults, I would argue, lay in the script itself, as the play was directed and acted with style and remained entertaining, funny, and poignant throughout.
‘Off The King’s Road’ is showing at Jermyn Street Theatre until 25th June. For tickets and more information click here http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/off-the-kings-road/.