The Courtyard Theatre is located inside the Theatre Museum just round the corner from the Piazza in Covent Garden. It's currently coming to terms with the unusual task of fending-off paparazzi whilst playing host to a revival of Arthur Miller's double bill of one act plays entitled 'Two-Way Mirror'.
The reason for the presence of a pack of ‘celeb-mad’ photographers outside the unassuming venue is that this is the West End acting debut of TV personality and ex-nurse, Abi Titmuss who, according to acquaintances, is famous for being the focus of attention in 'lad mags', and her self-confessed liking for group sex. Apparently she's also been in the TV show 'Celebrity Love Island', which I mercifully have never seen. Here, Ms Titmuss co-stars with Jay Benedict who has a fine voice, considerable stage presence and not a little in the way of acting ability. However, none of these qualities were going to save what turned out to be a dire evening of theatre.
The first play, 'Some Kind of Love Story', is a strange kind of melodramatic detective piece that pokes fun at the genre. Detective Tom O'Toole has been on a case for years, and believes that the key to unravelling it lies with Angie, an ex-prostitute with whom he has had an extra-marital affair and who he still hankers after. The action takes place in what appears to be some kind of dressing room. Styled to look more like Marilyn Monroe than Monroe herself, Titmuss finds it hard to keep in character most of the time, and her delivery was weak, her actions wooden, and her gestures somewhat bizarre. My guest had heard reports that Titmuss had been forgetting her lines, which was to be confirmed pretty blatantly when she actually told us so half way through this first play. Jay Benedict kindly helped her out, by going back to a previous position and starting again.
The audience laughed loudly and regularly throughout ‘Some Kind Of Love Story’. But they were divided into two camps. One group seemed to find the play genuinely amusing (partly because Ms Titmuss had to scream lines like ‘Come on, Tom, screw me, screw me’) while the other seemed to be relishing the low level of professionalism. Yet another group in the audience simply sat stony-faced throughout.
More or less in danger of 'falling apart' almost from the start, Mike Miller's direction reminded me of the kind of panto staff put on for school kids at the end of term. Overly loud sound effects and soppy music punctuate the entire piece, drowning-out Ms Titmus's lines so frequently that it was often hard to know whether she was actually delivering them or not. And there were bizarre bits of business such as Titmuss hiding under the dressing table, and Benedict doing a rather poor tap dance. Director Miller (no relation to the playwright, I assume) seemed bent on turning the melodramatic play into a chaotic farce. And if that was indeed his intention, he succeeded admirably, because for much of the time it was hard to know what was going on and where we were headed. But Arthur Miller's script provided some brilliantly apt lines: on the phone, Tom O'Toole says 'I’ve got that sinking feeling', but I had it long before him - within about a minute of the play commencing in fact. And near the end, Angie says 'If the cops ask, tell them we're going to midnight mass at St Jude’s', which seemed eminently more inviting, exciting and interesting than sitting through the wretched concoction we were witnessing on stage.
Surprisingly, the second play, ‘Elegy For A Lady’, was better. Treated with more in the way of respect and seriousness by all concerned, it's about a man who wants to buy his younger lover a gift because, we're told, she's dying. In conversation with shop-keeper Titmuss, Benedict examines his relationship with a younger woman. Titmuss managed to reclaim a vague amount of credibility here because she was rather more composed and focused. Her delivery was better, but her wooden mannerisms betrayed her inexperience and lack of basic acting skills. Benedict started well, but then caught the 'virus' from Titmuss, and began tripping over his lines - and who can blame him, given that it must have been a nerve-wracking and disappointing evening all round.
Rather more of a debacle than a debut, this production fails pretty miserably in almost every department, and the 'cringe factor' was running high during the first of these two plays in particular. Fans of Abi Titmuss may discover something in this production to entertain, but anyone else will find it eminently forgettable, if not unimaginably tedious and embarrassing.