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Is Anything Broken?, Tristan Bates Theatre

Dan Davies
Directed by Maja Milatovic-Ovadia
★★★

Pros: A sharp and relevant script and a short, punchy performance overall.

Cons: A slightly slow first half, possibly due to some slightly mediocre performances.

Our Verdict: An enjoyable show on balance, but I left feeling slightly disappointed by the way in which the script was brought to life on stage.

Andrew Ward and Simon Desborough. Photo: Peter Tilling

The last Dan Davies play we saw was 55M SQ, the rather excellent 10 minute short that formed part of RedFEST 2012 at the Old Red Lion. His latest show, staged at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe, is a longer 50 minute satire about the stress of modern life. It’s another witty piece of writing from Davies, and the topic itself is potentially hilarious, but this time I didn’t quite find myself laughing as much as I did in Islington’s best pub theatre.

The topic and the story of Is Anything Broken? is a clever one which I’m sure will resonate with the modern day audience. In short, it’s about a high-flying architect trying to balance his work life with his personal life. Calls from a merciless boss, demands from a career-hungry assistant, credit cards being declined, call centres being incompetent and a member of his family being hurt in a car accident all add up to create an all-too-recognisable environment which I’m sure has caused many a heart-attack in the UK! Rather excellently, I watched it (completely by coincidence) with a high-flying architect who has similar problems – this amused me greatly, although I’m not sure he saw the funny side of it…

In terms of the writing, it’s good, it’s witty, and it’s cleverly observed. I didn’t think the characters were quite developed enough for a piece that was a little bit longer than 55M SQ, which contributed to me not finding it quite as funny as I think the topic has potential to deliver. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I thought it was genuinely amusing, particularly at the end when it takes on an almost farcical quality as everything combines and just floods over the bewildered central character.

My biggest concern with this piece was the quality of the acting, which I felt was actually a bit below par on balance. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t disastrous, and there were some excellent performances, most notably from Andrew Ward who only had a small roles as the demanding boss Tibor and the hilarious builder Peter Wood. Simon Desborough wasn’t bad as the protagonist Patrick Emmanuel either, but I did feel that perhaps he wasn’t quite hysterical enough in places; maybe he had chosen to play it dry and calm, but I feel the laughs would have come more freely with a slightly more energetic performance.

It’s hard to know exactly what to say, but ultimately it took me longer than I had hoped to engage fully with the performance and suspend my disbelief. That being said, I still laughed, I still thought it was slick and professionally done and I wouldn’t regret spending money on it. It’s just that when I read the synopsis I was expecting something hilarious, and it didn’t quite deliver that as well as I had hoped.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

Is Anything Broken? has sadly finished it’s run at the Tristan Bates Theatre. It was produced by Player-Playwrights, and more details about them and their upcoming performances can be found online: http://www.playerplaywrights.blogspot.co.uk/

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