Alan Ayckbourn seems to be a fashionable choice for independent theatres at the moment, with the Print Room staging ‘Snake in the Grass’ and now Jermyn Street Theatre presenting ‘Drowning on Dry Land’. There are many Ayckbourn traits and characteristics that the two plays have in common, most obviously the mysterious outdoor settings: SITG is set in an old tennis court, DODL takes place in the protagonist’s garden. I felt frightened and unnerved by the Print Room’s production, and though there are still eerie undertones in ‘Drowning on Dry Land,’ it is predominantly a harmless comedy.
This is Ayckbourn’s 66th play, written in 2004 about the idiocy of celebrity culture. B-list star Charlie Conrad has caught the public’s attention by continually failing, and over seven years has transformed himself from approachable likeable guy to aloof megastar, with no time even to attend his six year old son’s birthday party. Fame seems to bring him little joy and slowly everything worth having slips away from him.
The attraction for many going to see ‘Drowning on Dry land’ will be the appearance of Les Dennis who takes on the role of Charlie’s kind, smooth-talking agent Jason Ratcliffe. Much to my surprise he steps up to the challenge and comes across convincing and at times quite hilarious. Christopher Coghill has a tricky job playing the ignorant celebrity, and he mostly succeeds though is occasionally a bit lacklustre. Emma Swain seems nervous as the princess wife, Linzi Conrad. Helen Mortimer is awkward as Marsha Bates the young woman entertainer, who turns into freakish clown, Mr Chortles. Her alter-ego clown becomes the focus of the play.
The real laughs come in the second half from Mark Farrelly and Russell Bentley as the two snappy lawyers Hugo de Prescourt and Simeon Diggs. Farrelly has a charming eloquence that immediately adds heat to the on stage debate, and catches the audience’s attention in a way not achieved previously. Bentley is an instinctive comedian who thrives with Ayckbourn’s humour, when he entered I found I was leaning forward in my seat to enjoy the hysterical banter.
Apart from the unpleasant heat this boutique theatre is truly unique in its layout and well worth a visit. You immediately feel involved - a quality perfect for Ayckbourn drama. Be warned though – toilets are on stage, so be sure to go before the lights go down.
Drowning on Dry Land continues until 19 March, book here.