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 The Theatreguide.London Review



Drowning on Dry Land
Jermyn Street Theatre   Spring 2011

Alan Ayckbourn's unique blend of laugh-out-loud comedy, touching human drama and sharp social comment is apparent in this 2004 dissection of celebrity culture, and if it is not quite top-rank Ayckbourn, that's just because the target is a bit too easy for the playwright to really have to work at it.

Ayckbourn's hero is Charlie Conrad, a former athlete who lost the big race, got the lowest possible score on a TV quiz and rapidly became known as The Guy Who Couldn't Do Anything Right. Naturally enough, he became a big star, opening supermarkets and endorsing products, rich and famous just because he was famous.

(If that seems a bit far-fetched, I need only remind you of more than one TV reality show figure who built fame and a career on nothing more than being stupid or nasty or big-breasted.)

But in the course of the play a minor indiscretion gets leapt upon by the same tabloids and fad-exploiters who created him, and Charlie finds himself back at the bottom even more quickly than he rose to the top.

And that's about it. The fact that Charlie is essentially an ordinary bloke and a nice guy is enough to make us care about him, and the introduction of a couple of oily lawyers, irresistible targets of our disdain, deflects any anger we might feel against the real agents of his fall or those who desert him on the way down.

So the play isn't as sharp-edged as, say, Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular, just a quietly comic and quietly sad portrait of a little man who was never really in control of his life.

Director Guy Retallack allows a couple of his actors to play too big and broadly for the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre, but draws quietly effective and affecting performances from Christopher Coghill as Charlie, Les Dennis as his agent and, in a tour-de-force of oiliness, Mark Farrelly as the kind of lawyer you'd rather have on your side than against you.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Drowning on Dry Land - Jermyn Street 2011