“Don’t tell me this is something new. Don’t tell me this is something interesting.”

It’s hard to tell you about The Boring Room. This is both something intended by the production (read its very vague promotional material online) and a failing of it.  Made up of three stories, told in ‘completely the wrong order’, Olly Allsop’s play takes pleasure in frustrating your expectations. To be sure, you won’t have seen much exactly like this, but I can think of a few things a little like this: things which make abortive movements towards something grander, but are let down by something.

I think Allsop is probably a good writer, but billing The Boring Room as a black comedy is inaccurate; the laughs aren’t consistent or large enough to qualify it, and the impression you’re left with isn’t one of having seen a play which had the chief aim of being funny. The dryness of the script, however, is a strength, and at points I had the feeling that if only the actors – mainly Emily Stride and Jamie Laird – would control the campiness of their acting, that dryness would have a chance to show itself to us. Laird spends much of the show pulling facial expression after expression in very quick procession until it’s almost as if he’s gurning, and Stride’s simpering as Christie in the first story went from comic to grating rather quickly.

Michael Keane’s performance is the best, and his monologues the strongest moments in the play. The Boring Room does what it sets out to do, largely: the three parts are indeed told out of order, we gradually piece things together, some common elements throughout provide a slight thrill (the alcohol, (o)leander, strangulation, a room being boring) but I was most invested in the first story, involving Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and a sinister incarceration, which necessarily ended before we were given much resolution. This would and should have been fine, but the successive stories were less interesting, and as an audience we now had the sense that no mystery in each of them was going to be seen to. And indeed, because the last two parts were so much less interesting as concepts, there didn’t feel like there was much mystery to them at all. My investment took a drastic hit over the course of the play.

The Vaults Theatre is a good site for this piece – the trains’ rumbling lends something to the air of the actors as they look around for some kind of answer. I have to say ‘lent’, as I don’t think that something is there in the play already, or not strong enough to make an impression on you. I’d like to have a drink with Allsop; I suspect he knows what he’s doing as a writer, for the most part, and The Boring Room deserves to be the least of his achievements.

The Boring Room is playing at the Vaults Theatre until the 11th February. For more information and tickets, see vaultfestival.com/whats-on/the-boring-room.