Crime-based plays are not a common genre anymore. Since the likes of Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond hit out cinema and TV screens, we have craved more elaborate plot lines and more thrilling sequences to keep us on the edge of our seats. These storylines throw in so many twists and turns that we feel like we’re on an intellectual rollercoaster – no-one can guess the ending or comprehend the eponymous hero’s powers of deduction. The Hotel Room takes two short crime-based farces back to simpler times, where the final twist comes right at the end.
Criminal Behaviour sees two burglars stumbling into the hotel room after their latest heist has gone wrong. Afraid that the whole thing had been a set-up by their boss, they wait nervously for the arrival of his agent to explain their innocence.
Sully (Jake Mann) and Mickey (Oliver Geraghty-Gower) have an immediately likeable chemistry with a relationship similar to Del Boy and Rodney from Only Fools and Horses. Sully is in charge, with all the bright ideas and trying to calm things down now it’s all gone wrong; Mickey is the bumbling fool with the witty, simple one-liners and a personality that evokes pity straight off. Initially the actors seem nervous and the punchlines aren’t getting the delivery they need to generate the audience laughs. Ben Worth’s script overall contains some good observational comedy (“It’s London mate, no-one talks to each other on buses!” and “I ain’t any man’s bacon sandwich” in particular go down well) but it doesn’t bring the house down. Then Tony (Dan Godward), the boss’s agent, enters the scene. Godward behaves like a shorter Ray Winstone but has a great Cockney gangster manner about him. His voice is gravelly which makes his childhood story all the funnier. His presence seems to bring the best out of Sully and Mickey too as the second part of this play is much more relaxed.
The twist at the end here reminded me a bit of The Mousetrap. In its day, the audience would probably have never seen it coming and been genuinely shocked; today’s audience spend the entirety of the play guessing the twist, which makes is much less unbelievable when it actually happens. This play was no different.
Undercover sees two policemen in a hotel room preparing a sting operation. Their plan – to catch an arms dealer under the guise of illegal gun smugglers; their issue – they don’t realise who else is already in the hotel room unaware of what is about to unfold.
As in the previous production, Murray (Oliver Towse) and Conor (Stuart Vincent) have a good chemistry as the two undercover cops and the dialogue flows naturally from the start. Also like the first play, there are some awkward moments where characters stumble over lines which disrupt the production somewhat. Ed Hartland’s writing is also witty and well-paced, with good references to Robert De Niro that tie the lines together smoothly. The supporting characters here are also mostly competent – the Maid’s (Jeylan Sannah) physical comedy and facial expressions are particularly funny to watch, adding those little extra comedic touches that take her acting to the next level. Some actors, whilst still capable, were less well versed in comedy acting; Frank (Jamie Coleman) and Richard (Elliot Thomas) were a bit over the top in their characters and as such came across a bit annoying instead of funny. Paddy (Hannah McClean) provided a great, if a bit unexpected, villain here.
This play overall however was much more farcical than the previous, typical of Alan Ayckbourn’s work (but less well developed). The ending here for once had a twist that the audience didn’t spot as easily but also wasn’t sufficiently different to provide that shock factor. Unfortunately the final few minutes descended from farcical into ridiculous; whilst outrageous I still need a farce to be somewhat believable, but characters coming back from the dead is a step too far.
I did enjoy both of these plays – they provided a nice mid-week diversion. But I couldn’t help feel I was watching amateur dramatics at work; whilst there is nothing wrong with that (I saw and laughed through all kinds of plays whilst at university) when a play is London fringe you always go with the expectation of it being a slightly higher quality, considering how incredible some off-West End shows can be.
The Hotel Room is playing at White Bear Theatre until 13 June. For more information and tickets, see the White Bear Theatre website.