/ Review / Writing: Journalism

Is Anything Broken? (**)

Dan Davies’ radio play adapts poorly to the stage, with lacklustre direction and performances, although the writing betrays the spark of a talented dialogue writer. But a rather predictable story and a mundane situation let the writing down, which, combined with the poor production, leads to a rather disappointing overall result. At the Camden Fringe.

In an airport departure lounge, we’re introduced to Patrick – architect extraordinaire – and his assistant Orienne, both getting ready for a presentation in Tashkent. But Patrick’s son has been hit by a car – or has he? And is his son really more important than his job? As Patrick ties to juggle life and work, more and more issues are thrown into the mix – can he possibly keep it all together?

The first main issue here is the simplicity of the story – the concept of choosing between work and family is nothing new, and, in this case, the stakes stay bizarrely low. If the problems became insurmountable, I’d understand the joke, but each new twist doesn’t serve to ramp the tension up – just divert it. Sometimes the revelation even lowers the tension – it’s a strange rollercoaster ride of a piece. There’s also the classic issue that we’re not really rooting for anybody – if there’s one thing the text shows, it’s that none of these characters deserve to come out on top. It’s not that the characters are particularly awful – at least then there’d be some revelatory pathos (the kind Ricky Gervais excels in), but they’re just petty and dull.

I suppose it is very cut from life, and that certainly comes across in Davies’ dialogue, which manages to straddle the border between naturalism and comic exaggeration as well as you’d expect from someone with so successful a radio career. But it doesn’t translate well to the stage – there’s no action, and everything hangs on language. It doesn’t help that the direction is particularly hamstrung: a screen at the side shows endless poorly animated loops that have no bearing on the story, and the pace is painfully slow for a piece where the tension should be high. The performers also range from decent to awful – which, again, just slows everything down.

It’s mostly a shame for the dialogue – this is clearly a writer with an excellent grasp of language who can write good lines, but I dearly wish they were in a different play. The plot needs to be tighter, and I hope this experience inspires Davies to write another piece for the stage – he certainly has the ability. The less said about this production, however, the better.


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