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 The TheatreguideLondon Review

Baggage
Arts Theatre  Autumn 2012

A two-hour stage comedy with fewer laughs or even mild chuckles than a typical half-hour TV sitcom is difficult to recommend. 

John Muirhead and Mike Charlesworth's play is a sitcom at heart – Men And Women Behaving Badly Online – and with a lot of rewriting and the injection of some real jokes it might carry two or three episodes. But as it stands, your imagination has to fill in all the things that would make it acceptable even by modest TV standards. 

Two old friends meeting after a long break reminisce about their days of online dating. One just cynically collected one-night stands while the other was looking for a real relationship. In flashbacks they meet their female counterparts, but in the wrong mix-and-match combinations, leading to two dates disastrous in different ways. 

And then the nice guy and the nice girl are improbably stranded at the same Peruvian airport and, unaware of the other connections, get to know each other in the old-fashioned face-to-face way. 

There are a few amusing moments, like the rapid medley of the stud's identical dates with a string of interchangeable bimbos and the nice guy's encounter with the man-eater, and the scenes are punctuated by projections of amusing statistics (X percent of women have sex on the first date, Y percent of men don't consider cyber-flirting to be infidelity). But they are far too few and too weak to carry the evening. 

Aside from being joke-challenged, Muirhead and Charlesworth's script is very awkwardly constructed, moving backward and forward in time between the reunion now and various memories of then, more than once involving flashbacks within flashbacks, and requiring so many set changes that a couple of cast members seem to spend more time acting as stagehands than acting in the scenes in between. 

There are also too many loose ends and unexplained stray elements, like why the reunion is at the funeral of someone otherwise no part of the story, or why (other than divine retribution) one of the four central characters is dying. 

Richard Mylan and Nicola Stapleton as the nice couple have enough space to create believable and sympathetic characters, but Charlie De'Ath and Suzanne Shaw as the sex addicts are each given just one note to play and little opportunity to build on it. Dan Wilder and Polly Eachus play Everyone Else and move a lot of furniture.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Baggage - Arts Theatre 2012  

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