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 The Theatreguide.London Review

All New People
Duke of York's Theatre   Spring 2012

This modest little comedy-drama is thoroughly formulaic, but its characters are attractive and developed beyond the bare needs of the genre, the direction and performances round them out nicely, and you are likely to find yourself caring about them more than you expected, while still being lightly entertained. 

Oh, and you get an American TV star (who also wrote it) in the bargain. 

The curtain rises to find 35-year-old Charlie trying to hang himself just as a kookie young woman enters. Of course you could write the broad outline of the play yourself at that point, though the real interest will be what we learn about these two characters, and two more who will appear, along the way. 

The setting is a summer resort in midwinter, where Charlie has borrowed a friend's house to be depressed in, while Emma is a hapless estate agent planning to rent it out for next summer. After releasing him from his noose, she calls in her one local friend Myron, the resort's off-season fire chief and drug dealer, and they are later joined by Kim, an expensive call girl sent by Charlie's friend as a birthday present. 

So, a mismatched group of people improbably in one room trying to cope with an improbable crisis – the very material of stereotyped comedy. But writer-star Zach Braff skilfully individualises each of the four and gives them backstories (played out in part through filmed interludes) that make them unexpectedly interesting and sympathetic.  

And director Peter DuBois has led his cast to nicely developed characterisations that colour the laughter and drama with an attractive warmth. At its best moments, All New People suggests a Mike Leigh play, with the humour and drama both growing out of fully understood and realised characters.

Zach Braff may surprise those who know him from the TV sitcom Scrubs, since his playing of Charlie has none of the TV character's mannerisms or feyness and even a deeper voice; Charlie is a dark character rather begrudgingly in a comedy, and Braff's solid presence keeps some of the silliness from getting out of hand. 

The other three actors each have what could be single-dimensional comic figures – kookie girl, cokeheaded weirdo, dumb blonde – but the combination of writing and acting fill them out attractively. Eve Myles lets us sense a depth and warmth to Emma even before we learn her dark backstory, Paul Hilton shows us the real feeling behind Myron's cool surface, and even Susannah Fielding's dippy hooker has unexpected sides to her. 

So come to laugh, and you will. But you also might surprise yourself by caring.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   All New People - Duke of York's Theatre - 2012

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