First presented in 1990, Doug Lucie’s Doing the Business plots a conversation between a theatre producer and a rich acquaintance as they debate how theatre (apparently an intrinsically leftie pursuit) can earn a payout from the overflowing right wing purse. Complementary piece Blind, also by Lucie, tells the tale of how a pair of artists seek funding from two very different sources: one paternal, encouraging and undemanding; the other, a clear-headed dealer with loyalties to nobody except the bank manager.
One of the plays is about performance, the other the visual arts; one provides a clash of opposing attitudes, the other delivers a more nuanced (yet equally flawed) interrogation of a patron’s needs. Both, in their dead-end visions of dependence in art, are backward and unconstructive and come across as self-indulgent, entitled and bitchy in tone.
In Doing the Business, stereotypically-drawn characters do little to enliven flimsy and textureless arguments. A laid back theatre producer (Jim Mannering), with top button undone, meets with a fellow Cambridge alumnus (Matthew Carter) dressed in a tie and braces. In the absence of textual depth, the costuming comes across as lazy, monochrome and overbearing – the staged equivalent of rubbing a copy of The Guardian against The Telegraph.
While he occasionally lets slip a little comic promise, Carter delivers his performance with volume largely unchanged, doing little to make his affluent character, Peter, anything more than a caricature. Mannering brings a similar lack of shading to his illumination of Mike, the thrifty producer whose palms are near-constantly poised towards the skies, as if seeking out a new higher power who is less concerned with end-of-year targets and capital gain.
The script is the greatest villain here though, and it is hard to comprehend why – in the age of significant commercial sponsorships providers such as Travelex and Sky – Triple Jump Productions has decided to revive a work that reinforces the myth against enterprise in the arts, perpetuating the oppositions it seeks to criticise.
Thankfully there’s a little more comic relief in Blind, the second play in this double bill. Janna Fox is excellent as Maddy Burns, the buzz-cut and bitter Tracey Emin-type whose conceptual hit ‘Turd in a Teacup’ sprung out of the artist’s confession that she always was a “shit painter”.
Unfortunately, the work fails to sustain this humour, choosing instead to blaze through contemporary issues with the vigour of your typical puberty-afflicted art class. Self-harm, sexuality, miscarriage, prostitution, lone-parenting, alcoholism, cocaine-abuse, death, casual sex, porn and heroin-induced suicide are all thoughtlessly tossed as seasoning onto the play’s core discussion of the value of a supportive network. Such throwaway references are best left to the YBAs.
Blind and Doing the Business are playing at the Courtyard Theatre until 23 February. For more information and tickets, see The Courtyard Theatre website.