Soho Theatre, London – until 19 January 2019
Neil is a fragile music journalist who hasn’t reconciled with his lack of success as a musician when he is kidnapped by ageing gangster Danny Machin. Danny wants Neil to write a moving exposé explaining that at heart, he’s a decent sort of chap. As Neil and Danny get to know each other in a remote Irish cabin, Neil’s past mistakes are revealed, along with his childhood friendship with a lad who went on to become an internationally renowned rock star.
The story hinges on the contrast between Neil and his schoolmate Paul, but there’s not a lot that separates them as kids. As teenagers, they’re both obsessed with music and start their own bands. Neil enlists his brother and the go on to play bars and clubs in Dublin before trying and failing to crack the London scene. Paul changes his band’s name to U2 and his own name to Bono. This is where they differ, and the unfairness of Neil’s lack of luck has made Neil bitter and depressed despite his success as a critic.
Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais turn this serious premise into a witty comedy of reconciliation and acceptance. There’s a good amount of funny one-liners but they don’t undermine the characters’ vulnerability. The gangster plotline, set up to be the primary one of the play, quickly becomes secondary and rather neglected. Though Neil’s a compelling enough character, we learn too little about Danny and the truths he wants to share with the world.
There are plenty of laughs, but there’s also a sense that there could be more than this. More women and more people of colour would be a starting point, with a splash more substance in what becomes the subplot, would make this good play something greater.