Theatre review: Knock Yourself Out at The Courtyard

PUBLISHED: 11:11 14 March 2013

Knock Yourself Out at the Courtyard Theatre. Picture: Kit Oates

Knock Yourself Out at the Courtyard Theatre. Picture: Kit Oates

Kit Oates Photography

New play about 20-somethings improves dramatically after interval

The first half of this play was, I’m afraid, about as funny as the crisis in Syria.

We are thrown into a squalid flat where various listless 20-somethings indulge in drink, drugs and casual sex in an attempt to salve the essential pointlessness of their lives. Storyline was there none. The centrepiece of the half was a lengthy set piece in which the various protagonists binge-drink themselves into oblivion. Call me a traditionalist, but I’ve always thought binge drinking is rather more fun if one can partake instead of merely watching other people act like cretins. I rather suspect the group of scallywags I knock about with for my sins could have produced wittier banter too.

The best thing that could be said for the half is that Tom Holloway, playing posh, troubled writer Roger, did a passably good impression of Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I. That, and a couple of half-decent dubstep tunes if you’re into that sort of malarkey.

By the interval I was ready to gnaw my own shinbone out simply by way of a distraction if the second half were not an outrageous improvement. It would take one of the moments of theatre to haul this production into the position where I could give it a good review.

And yet, amazingly, in the second half the play redeemed itself fairly spectacularly. Such quaint things as plot and characterisation emerged. This was drama, not staged idiocy. The humour began to be marked by a frisson of wit, rather than low-grade Skins knock-off crudity. I found my jawbone was no longer clenched with fury (never a good sign). Holloway gave an increasingly luminous performance. I wondered whether this play didn’t have something to say after all.

It definitely needs work. The first half is too long by 20 minutes and cries out for an editor with a scalpel and a ruthless urge to hack and slash. The meat and juice of the plot ought to be dotted throughout, not jemmied into the last 30 minutes. Some of the stage direction was lazy. But there’s definitely the kernel of a good story here, and – if you don’t mind seeing a production that is crude, unfinished – it is worth a watch.

* Knock Yourself Out at The Courtyard in Bowling Green Walk, N1, until March 24.

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