Park Theatre, London – until 1 April 2017
If, as she says, Corrie and EastEnders veteran Michelle Collins wants to shed her ‘soap actress’ image, she needs to find bolder challenges than Stewart Permutt’s comic but empty two-hander A Dark Night in Dalston.
Set against a rhythmically printed backdrop of a block of council flats my seat-neighbour Lesley Joseph described as ‘like the Andrew Martin wallpaper I put in my son’s bedroom’, we find Gina – it could as easily be Stella or Cindy – tottering round her all-in-one living space in high heels and an off-the shoulder top before rescuing a young orthodox Jewish boy who has just been mugged outside her door.
Apart from the fact the post-war social housing manual demanded separate kitchens in council flats, this feels hugely contrived. Gina is the estate’s all-purpose good neighbour and housebound gossip: she speaks a little cockney-accented Spanish to the Puerto Ricans upstairs and knows a few Yiddish words from her friend Sadie. Well it would be Sadie wouldn’t it, because Jewish women are never called anything else – and this weak cliché defines the simplicity and the awkwardness of Permutt’s construct.
It might be better if the play stuck to its early format of Collins playing lightly for laughs, and poking gentle fun at the oddities of rabbinical regulation – apparently the ‘do no work on the sabbath’ rules prevent Joe Coen as Gideon from tearing his own sheets of toilet paper, but don’t stop him popping the top on a can of drink. If you’re interested in the minefield observant Jews have to navigate, check out this article. It’s not a tenth as funny or as clever as Coen’s 2014 credit for Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews, but there are some good lines, and Coen is certainly an actor worth watching.
Permutt then bogs us down, for a stretching 105 minutes, in subplots of attempted suicide, mental illness, mother-daughter estrangement and two-way seduction with the implausible adjacency of Gina’s unseen husband hovering between disability and death in the next room. Unable to focus in adequate detail on any of the issues, the plot staggers and falls and the play ends as though the script’s printer had run out of paper and Permutt didn’t think it worth popping down to Rymans for another ream.