Theatre Royal, Glasgow
There are at least two American comedy dramas currently on TV which are set among a high-flying network of American TV executives making, um, comedy dramas. A self-referential burst of pop culture choking on its own prime time tail for sure, but it sure ain’t a new pitch. Onstage, comic creatives have been the stuff of smart-ass grown-up sit-coms ever since Neil Simon patented the New York skyline, setting the template for Woody Allen en route.
This commercial revival of Bernard Slade’s knowingly-titled 1979 Broadway hit, later turned into a film vehicle for Dudley Moore, sits squarely in the same neighbourhood. Charting the 14-year professional relationship between smash-hit but dryly disillusioned Broadway playwright Jason Carmichael and his ditsy fan-girl writing partner Phoebe, the play’s showbiz in-jokes illustrate this odd couple’s life/art matrix with the sort of self-analytical insight only found today in teen soaps. Viewed now as a period piece, Slade’s trawl through adultery, denial, feminism and the soon-come crisis of masculinity now resembles the befuddled musings of an out of touch craftsman from another age.
As Jerry, Tom Conti directs himself in a part he originally played almost three decades ago. Vanity project or not, the generation-gap between Jerry and Kate Atkinson’s Phoebe is considerably more marked than it should be. Conti’s trademark performance is at times so louchely hang-dog one can’t help wonder if he’s ever-so slightly bored with what he’s doing. By contrast, Atkins’s Phoebe, like her namesake in Friends, which brought this sort of wise-cracking kiss-chase into the 1990s, is a kooky duckling turned swan in a gentle but past-it fumble through the emotional mores of literary types unable to get it together.
The Herald, November 28th 2007