Phil has been on the comedy scene for a while. He has taken fierce womanising to the extreme and it is clear from the first five minutes of Broken Lad that his behaviour is slowly becoming distasteful and ugly. He has one final stab at a comeback show: will he bring it back, or will we watch the slow demise of an old, struggling artist?
Set in the upstairs of a traditional English pub, the play is an analytical living room drama: different friends and family members of Phil dip in and out of dialogue with him and each other. It all begins playfully with an affable and cultivated relationship between a comedian and his gay friend, only to demonstrate as the drama continues how very un-jovial this is in actuality. As the play develops, we see the consequences of a man slowly unravelling, and the cracks of a dysfunctional family starting to show.
“A sleezeball” is the nicer term to describe the womanising, egotistical Phil, played brilliantly by Patrick Brennan. We learn that Phil has been seeing Ria (Yasmin Paige) for a month before he unashamedly tells her he is the father of her boyfriend Josh (Dave Perry). The irony of Josh worrying about leaving his father and girlfriend alone in the same room as he suspects his father “will pounce” is highlighted when Josh does shut the door and Phil asks Ria to run off with him. With this running theme of familial betrayal, Brennen captures the sense of a sickening ego out of control and the detrimental domino effect it can have on a whole family.
The role of Ned, played by Adrian Mcloughlin, serves as the perfect light relief throughout the play. He is a middle-aged gay man on the online dating scene and Mcloughlin comically captures the uncomfortable, commercialised new romance of the 21st century in his performance.
Ria and ex-wife and mother Liz (Carolyn Backhouse) have a magnetically charged scene towards the end in which they explore questions about fidelity and love. We start to understand why Liz would behave as she has to her boyfriend, only to learn about her troubled past and complex relationship with her mother. It’s a clichéd but useful trick to make the characters that much more interesting and three dimensional. The more vulgar Phil becomes the more Liz likes him, and it sings of broken heart syndrome.
This is a good, solid play that kept me transfixed throughout, with only minor areas needing improvement. At times the acting could have been more realistic, occasionally lacking the excitement needed to lift the drama to that next level, but for a gently entertaining evening, it was perfect. The language was funny, from time to time purposefully leaning on the side of vulgar, and there’s a particularly hilarious anecdote describing Boris Johnson in phallic terms.
Director Richard Speir leads us fluidly through the dynamics of a dysfunctional family, covering betrayal, father/son relationships, 21st-century masculinity and pride. The slow demise of Phil pulls at your heartstrings: although you despise the man, you can’t help but feel that bit sorry for him. He has an ego out of control but you’re challenged to understand it. And at the end you’re left wondering, who is the broken lad?
Written by: Robin Hooper
Directed by: Richard Speir
Broken Lad is part of Arcola’s outdoor festival Today I’m Wiser Festival. Further information and booking via the below link.