PATRICK MARMION reviews drone of a comedy Never Have I Ever

Never have I ever… been so darned bored! PATRICK MARMION reviews the gas-guzzling drone of a comedy with 2D characters

Never Have I Ever (Minerva Theatre, Chichester)

Verdict: Never should you ever consider it


God of Carnage (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith)

Verdict: Lacks airs and graces


Stand-up comedian Deborah Frances-White is best known for her podcast The Guilty Feminist. Now, unhappily for us, she’s turned her sights on the stage with a sneering, gas-guzzling drone of a comedy.

It’s set up for the purpose of pillorying a 50-something white hedge-fund manager and surreptitious sex predator played by Mr Emma Thompson, Greg Wise. Weirdly, Wise’s character Tobin doesn’t seem to mind the ridicule — despite writing off his huge capital investment in the failed restaurant where the show is set.

After being invited over by the owners so they can break the news of their bankruptcy (and his resulting eye-watering loss), he is ambushed by the confessional drinking game of the title. During the ‘fun’, he learns that his much younger black wife has been unfaithful …with both of the other characters.

Frances-White’s play has few of the hallmarks of drama and throws up only a single dilemma in a contrived and convoluted plot wherein Tobin offers £750,000 to have sex with the restaurant’s chef Jacq (Alex Roach) by way of revenge.

Billing herself as a working-class Welshwoman ‘from a scabby council estate’, she is both tempted and disgusted. But, as a college friend of Tobin’s wife (Susan Wokoma), she feels guilty about accepting the offer.

Greg Wise (right) and Susan Wokoma (left) in Never Have I Ever at Chichester Festival Theatre

A believable or engaging story is not Frances-White’s purpose here. Instead, she has turned to a form of sermonising, in the vein of one of her literary heroes George Bernard Shaw

There is also the minor consideration of her husband Kas (Amit Shah), who is in on the decision and who makes feeble attempts at peace.

A believable or engaging story is not Frances-White’s purpose here. Instead, she has turned to a form of sermonising, in the vein of one of her literary heroes George Bernard Shaw. Each of the characters is a 2D mouthpiece spouting the kind of political correctness we’ve all heard before.

Tobin is the secretly exploitative ‘good capitalist’ who is ‘too woke to say ‘woke’ ‘. While his wife Adaego is the indignant black victim of racism whose charmless catchphrase is: ‘Come the f*** on.’ Bisexual chef Jacq provides both the LGBTQ+ and class-struggle angle and, waiting his turn to the end, Kas is the meek immigrant ‘brown’ voice of reason.

Although they all get slaughtered on wine and cocaine, they somehow remain sober enough to articulate Frances-White’s loftily self-important opinions. Unsurprisingly, Emma Butler’s undistinguished production, on a set of chrome dining benches, simply parks them in one corner of the restaurant and leaves them to pontificate.

Some of this was greeted on Press night with cheers. But — call me old fashioned — should drama really seek simply to ingratiate itself with an audience? Or should it perhaps seek to disturb and challenge?

It should certainly try to surprise, and not bore. As one character says: ‘So many red flags, I could make bunting.’ Sounds about right.

Middle-class niceties date faster than a bag of ready-washed rocket. So it is with Yasmina Reza’s 2006 comedy-drama God Of Carnage, starring Freema Agyeman, who was David Tennant’s sidekick in Doctor Who.

The play is a send-up of the Parisian bourgeoisie, in which two couples try to reach an entente cordiale after one of their young sons assaults the other. The joke is that such Neanderthal behaviour has been with us since the dawn of time, and middle-class manners are but a Rizla-paper defence against the barbarism of human nature. It’s an amusing idea.

Alas, Nicholai La Barrie’s revival has little feel for the painful faith Reza’s characters put in social etiquette. Lily Arnold’s all-white, revolving set, centred on a marble coffee table, does indeed look like the pinnacle of civilisation. But not only are the nuances lost on the cast, the actors frequently are allowed to sit in each other’s way.

Middle-class niceties date faster than a bag of ready-washed rocket. So it is with Yasmina Reza’s 2006 comedy-drama God Of Carnage (pictured), writes PATRICK MARMION

At the preview I saw, only willowy Dinita Gohil showed any savoir faire, as the wealth manager whose son is the 11-year-old assailant. Agyeman, as the mother of the injured child, remains in quirky Doctor Who mode, every so often waving an arm as if hailing a passing Tardis.

At a pinch, the play can be said to be the Abigail’s Party or even the Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf of the 2000s. But an unacceptable n-word has already had to be excised from Reza’s original play, with Christopher Hampton’s translation replacing it with a not-much-better c-word.

This kind of multicultural housekeeping is much more typical of our age — and could itself form the basis of a send-up of middle-class ideological vanities.

Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense (Salisbury Playhouse and Bolton Octagon)

Verdict: Spiffing stuff


Many are called to recreate P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster, but few double acts are as light or well-turned as this one featuring Patrick Warner and Luke Barton in Salisbury — and due to run at Bolton’s Octagon next month.

Adapted by David and Robert Goodale, it concerns Bertie (Barton) being charged by bossy Aunt Dahlia with procuring a small silver ‘cow creamer’ jug on sale at an antique shop in Bond Street.

The enterprise brings him up against the terrifying man mountain Spode — menacing manservant of a rival buyer.

But also in the mix is Bertie’s babbling best friend Gussie, who’s performing an experiment to determine if the full moon has any effect on the love life of newts.

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is at Salisbury Playhouse and is also due to run at Bolton’s Octagon next month

With stakes raised by society girls blackmailing the young cards using social wiles and batting eyelids, it’s naturally a pickle that only Jeeves can solve. And happily, in Warner, they have a MENSA-grade manservant. Wearing a morning suit and neatly parted hair, his bass voice resonates authoritatively. He reminded me of a laconic Nigel Hawthorne in Yes Minister; with touches of John Cleese mania in the minor roles he also performs (including Gussie, the jazz-handed, loveable dimwit).

As ever, Bertie must be allowed to think himself in charge, and Luke Barton is a handsome and perfectly charming simpleton, who chats affably with the audience. Nor is he too thick. Rather, he is beset with half-understood intuitions that Jeeves helps him unravel.

Alistair Cope is terrific fun in sundry other roles, including the dastardly Spode, who seems bigger every time Bertie clocks him.

Marieke Audsley’s production is a fetching piece of work, with Olivia du Monceau’s set making the stage look like an Art Deco walnut cabinet with secret drawers. It presents new scenery with rotating pictures, a projecting bed and bath tub.

At one point, a car is formed from a fireplace fender, dinner plates and arm chairs – together with a silver platter on a billiard cue in lieu of a level crossing (cue tinkling triangle for the warning signal). Spiffing stuff.

A life for a life… with a very Gallic denouement

By Georgina Brown

Farewell Mister Haffmann (Ustinov Theatre, Bath)

Verdict: The price of a life 


How far would you go to save your own or another person’s life? It’s the big question posed by Jeremy Sams’s English language adaptation of Jean-Philippe Daguerre’s award-winning chamber play.

Paris in 1942. The Nazis are rounding up Jews. Jeweller Joseph Haffmann (Nigel Lindsay) has handed over his business to his employee Pierre (Ciaràn Owens) who agrees to hide him in the cellar. With one proviso. Pierre is infertile and desperate for a child. He orders Haffmann to impregnate his wife, Isabel (Lisa Dillon).

Farewell Mister Haffmann at the Ustinov Theatre, Bath

Here’s when the play becomes impressive, holding a tricky balance between black comedy and jeopardy, which director Lindsay Posner and tight performances keep in perfect poise.

Pierre sees the deal as ‘a life protected in exchange for a new life created’. It turns out to be a complicated form of torture for all three. While Joseph and Isabel do the deed in the cellar, Pierre tap-dances.

Business booms. Pierre becomes richer, but increasingly jealous. His tap-dancing becomes more frenzied, sounding like Nazi jackboots, getting closer and closer.

The taut, distorted love triangle ruptures when the Nazis come for dinner. Alexander Hanson’s ambassador declares his devotion to Hitler; his mink-clad wife (a show-stealing comic turn from Josefina Gabrielle) swills wine and double entendres. Isabel and Haffmann somehow keep their dignity while all about them are losing theirs.

This deft, discomforting dramatisation of moral dilemmas deserves prizes.

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