Pros: Some great writing, plenty of laughs, never a dull moment.
Cons: A bit messy and predictable at times.
Inside the little little-known gem of a venue that is the Phoenix Artist Club, the newly-formed End of the Line Theatre Company treat us to a fun and frantic love story centred around an awkward young man’s quest for the woman of his dreams. So far, so Disney, but throw in a hefty dose of drug-dealing, attempted suicide and dinosaur onesies and you have a very enjoyable and often rather original take on a tale as old as time.
After a boisterous introduction to the concept of godlike beauty and perfection by performer Adam Patrick Boates, the play begins in earnest as Frank (James Craze) prepares to jump off a bridge, having been teetering on the edge since we first entered the space. Another scene begins on stage, the events occurring simultaneously and linked by a phone call, and I rightly assume that we are being treated to the age-old trope of a flash-forward at the beginning of the play. There are many such moments where one can predict the trajectory of the story and the play as a whole with a fair degree of certainty, but in a sense there-in lies its charm. As Frank begins a whirlwind romance before meeting his destiny – the eponymous Phoebe (Chloe Levis) – we know how well it’ll ultimately turn out. We can also predict as well as Frank can how likely it is that his best friend really will give up selling cocaine once they’re back ‘in the black’. The dialogue, though undoubtedly well-written, is also relatively pedestrian at times, and it sometimes feels as if the characters are going through the motions.
However, it’s in the little moments of intimacy and fantasy that the play really comes alive and Jim English’s talent as a writer is laid bare. Frank, as the protagonist, has the lion’s share of these moments. Craze displays fantastic energy, timing and – most of all – heart, milking these moments for all they’re worth and crafting a central character I could not help but love and empathise with. He presents the embodiment of every young, heterosexual man who has ever doubted himself and his ability with women, who has ever felt trapped between his yearning for happiness and his desire not to hurt anyone in the process – me, essentially. All the cast are extremely likeable and engaging, from Alex Jordan’s relentlessly cheeky Bailey, to Leila Ayad’s turn as Frank’s no-nonsense big sister (also Leila), to Boakes as the frightening yet wonderfully articulate local dealer. Sara Huxley shows great strength and bravery in her performance as Chelsea (the one who’s not ‘the one’), and Levis has sweet, spunky charm that completely sells Phoebe as “the girl we all want to take to Pizza Hut”.
The theatre space itself is in the back room of a club that many denizens of Theatreland call home, and it was at times distracting hearing the clinking of glasses and the guffawing at favourite anecdotes (presumably) from the bar just next door. However, director David Zoob allowed his actors such freedom of expression that their energy almost always overpowered any outside interference. More importantly, he also drew out some wonderfully playful moments – particularly when performers spoke directly to the audience – that felt entirely real, as if they were thought up on the spot. Ultimately, the play needed more of that kind of vim and natural flow to make it truly excellent, but it cannot be denied that this was a very good effort from a young company with a big future.
Author: Jim English
Director: David Zoob
Producer: Mini Productions
Booking Until: 2nd August 2014
Box Office: 020 7836 1077
Booking Link: http://www.camdenfringe.com/detailact.php?acts_id=487