White Bear Theatre, London – until 9 June 2018
I must admit that, from the title alone, I was expecting a sort of Minder/Only Fools and Horses-style comedy with a bit of East End patter, lots of cheek and likeable performances. But Simon David Eden’s latest play, The Gift of the Gab doesn’t get into its stride from the outset, let down by – surprisingly – poor dialogue.
Gift of the Gab is set in 1979 Brighton and I wondered if Eden was hoping to emulate the success of One Man, Two Guvnors by setting the piece in the South Coast resort.
The action takes place in Rizzini’s, an Italian greasy spoon run by fiery Ric and his bellissimo daughter, Concetta. It’s here we meet Gabe, Arthur and Stan, three kings of the grift. They’re conmen, knocking door-to-door, selling bogus house security systems who then, after casing the homes, flog the info to the criminal underworld for a cut of the burglary takings. They’ve recruited Gabe’s hapless young nephew, Winkle, into the profession but he doesn’t have much nous. Like all kids, he wants to take shortcuts and shows contempt for the old gang’s low profit, old school, scamming.
Eden then seems to suffer from indecision. There’s a strand following Winkle on his can’t fail plan to get rich quick, another with Gabe experiencing a midlife crisis, a third misdirection suggesting a stolen valuable item, and a fourth with the old trio facing ruin by the new Sale of Goods Act.
The problem is that none are followed through with any conviction and, worse, the playwright has written scenes of such brevity that the audience spends more time watching scene changes than enjoying the actual performance.
The narrative is fragmented and disjointed, the blokey banter lacks humour, and Stan’s running joke questioning singer Cliff Richards’ sexual proclivities, is, I’d have thought, considering recent court cases, rather iffy, if not litigious.
Charlie Allen’s Stan seems to be the only member of the cast who has made an effort to dress of the period. The rest fail miserably.
Both Ross Boatman’s Gabe and Arthur (Michael Roberts) look totally modern and Lewis Bruniges, as Winkle, is more 2018 hipster with his ponytail tied up and designer ripped jeans than 1979 long-haired rocker, who would have had a mullet or hard rock shaggy perm, and flared blue Levis.
Where are the shirts and matching ties, the men’s three-piece suits, big lapels, flares, sideburns and big hair?
The only character to really leave an impression is Ivanhoe Norona’s heavily accented Ric, who has a long-running battle with learning English and impatient drivers who sound their horns in the traffic jams outside the cafe.
He is usually reciting tongue-twisters in order to overcome the former, and armed with a baseball bat to combat the latter.
There’s a gag about him spending £349 on the new must-have kitchen accessory – a microwave – which is funny even though it has been doing the rounds ever since the appliances first came to the UK.
The performances are good but limited. With each scene only lasting a couple of minutes the cast spend most of their time putting their coats on and off.
There’s barely enough time to utter a line, certainly not to engage in witty repartee, or develop the plot, before it is lights out and all change.
Winkle’s doggy predicament in the second act is also a hoary old chestnut, done in any number of films and TV series about hapless burglaries going horribly wrong.
There might be some mileage in Gift of The Gab but Simon David Eden will have to go back to the drawing board to rethink it.