Pros: An excellent cast and a great cameo appearance from Jeff Bridges.
Cons: A patchy script that doesn’t explore the characters in enough detail, and Jeff Bridges only appearing on video.
Scanning the theatre listings we are inevitably drawn to actors we know. It becomes a magnet for some shows, although you wouldn’t necessarily expect big names to appear in an Off West End production. This is where Off the Kings Road stands out more than most, as Michael Brandon, of Dempsey and Makepeace fame, heads a stellar cast. He plays Matt Browne, a recently widowed American businessman who comes to London, his favourite city, to relive the happy times spent with his wife. He checks into a small hotel and encounters long term resident Ellen Mellman, played by Cherie Lunghi. Ellen is desperate for companionship and is immediately drawn to the mysterious widower. But Matt really wants to be left alone to cope with his grief and to remember life before his wife died. Freddie, played by Luke Pitman, is the gossipy concierge, anxious to play Cupid with the lonesome pair. Sheena, played by Diana Dimitrovici, is the seductive distraction that Matt needs more than he wants. We also have the brilliant Jeff Bridges appearing all too briefly on video as Matt’s shrink, Dr Kozlowski.
So the scene is set for a moving study of how one person deals with the emotional wreckage resulting from a loved one’s death. Whilst we have a sense of Matt’s bewilderment, the script doesn’t get to grips with his feelings quickly enough. A hotel room and whiteboard to draw up a daily task list doesn’t tell us anything about him or the way he feels. Ellen would appear to be a useful outlet for Matt’s story, but she is used too sparingly. If the two characters had connected earlier in the piece, Matt would have confided in Ellen and we might have got a more satisfying back story. Ellen seems to lack depth and little of her character is revealed, aside from a fixation with cats. Matt’s liaison with Sheena pulls the story away from its central theme too often and feels largely superfluous. Frequent references to the Ingmar Bergman film Wild Strawberries are also confusing, particularly if you’re not a fan of Swedish language films. The film’s main character is an old man recalling his past, so there’s a valid point of reference, but this wouldn’t have been obvious to the uninitiated.
The highlights of the play are Matt’s exchanges with Dr Kozlowski via a Skype link in his hotel room. Three short segments, lasting no more than five minutes a pop, were an absolute treat. Jeff Bridges plays the West Coast hippy beach bum to perfection, providing light relief and moments of insight. These scenes are particularly well-rehearsed as Bridges’ contributions were obviously recorded. Brandon’s timing is immaculate as he synchs with the flickering video image. These online consultations are essential to the story, and I was longing for more interplay between doctor and patient. Overall it’s an enjoyable show, but it’s the genuine star quality of the cast that puts some much-needed flesh on the bare-bones script.
Author: Neil Koenigsberg
Director: Alan Cohen
Producer: Underground Management and Jermyn Street Theatre
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking Link: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/off-the-kings-road/
Booking Until: 25 June 2016