And Another Thing...

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

At the Manchester International Festival four years ago, Johnny Vegas performed the memorably unique Interiors, in which he showed the audience around a real three-bedroom suburban semi as if they were potential buyers.

For his much-anticipated return, the setting is a home shopping TV channel and the gimmick – although Vegas would blanch at the word – is a live hook-up with the Ideal World station, in which the characters pitch actual products to viewers at home as part of the story.

In truth, this is the least interesting part of And Another Thing – not helped by the fact two broadcast cameras have to trundle in front of the action for this scene, obscuring the action for the theatre audience who have to crane to watch it on two small, inadequate monitors. The broadcast hook-up does, however, lend a sense of urgency and frisson to this scene, although heaven knows what the TV viewers make of Vegas suddenly appearing to flog them a hanging basket, with script full of in-jokes only the live audience would understand.

That Ideal World agreed to all this confirms Vegas’s assertion that the aim was never to mock the genre – which is probably for the best given what a big, easy target it is. But there is nonetheless plenty of gentle ribbing of a world where a tartan rug isn’t a tartan rug but a Groundhog Excelsior and presenters must be blandly acceptable at all times. However, there’s also a tacit acknowledgement of the skill in ad-libbing a sales pitch live on air and dealing with the pressure of hitting the commercial information, making the sales, and never drying up.

This is where the sitcom element comes in, as our two main protagonists are trapped in this strange alternative universe, not able to function in the real one. Vegas plays Bryan Chadwick, the revered elder statesman of this kingdom, a master salesman who lives and breathes his work. His Ideal co-star Emma Fryer is Lindsay Gibson, the elegant but attainable ingénue, agoraphobically trapped in the studio by her own unjustified insecurities and dreaming, like Hannibal Lecter, for a room with a window. And, somewhat less like Hannibal Lecter, her own line of support undergarments.

The pair wrote the play with the third cast member, the ever-watchable Kevin Eldon, as dependable Scottish floor manager Andy, part narrator, part sympathetic ear for the other characters and partly genuinely responsible for making sure the other actors hit their marks for the live broadcast – for Eldon also directed this 75-minute piece with a steady hand.

Their script bristles with wryly witty character-driven lines, and although it takes a little too long to establish the environment of the action, once jeopardy is introduced – in the form of Lindsay’s threat to break up the successful on-air partnership and go it alone – events crack along.

Vegas brings lashings of his trademark self-pity to his role, lauded at work but a mess at home, his whole being now wrapped up in selling garden ornaments. But it is Fryer who ultimately steals the show with an impassioned soliloquy from the edge of nervous breakdown, unloading her hang-ups like so many discounted catalogue items as the strain of projecting a personality without any personality finally takes its toll. Yet there remains a mordant humour in both her and Chadwick’s inescapable plights.

I’d urge you to buy tickets, but I could never do it as well as these two flawed but effective salespeople.

Review date: 12 Jul 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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