The Co-Op (Review – Onstage)

The Co-Op (Review – Onstage)

It was my firm intention yesterday to see and review a pair of productions from Park Theatre’s wittily titled Come What May festival. This has showcased 16 pieces, the majority of which have been rehoused from the cancelled Vaults Festival earlier this year. Unfortunately, for a reason I’ll go into later, I only saw one. The two plays, both featuring a cast of three and broadly classifiable as comedies were The Co-Op and My Life As A Cowboy.

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For the first few minutes of the former, I actually thought I’d misread the schedule and was watching the latter. The opening section gave us a scene derived from just about every Western movie ever made as two characters faced off in a saloon bar ripe with cliches and hackneyed dialogue. But this is how the inhabitants of The Co-Op theatrical agency pass their time while they wait for non-existent acting offers to roll in. These people are both actors and agents representing themselves and each other but massively failing on both fronts. There’s the (very) occasional advert but the rest of the time Jimmy and Cazza have little else to do but play act in their freezing office and cook up conspiracy theories about the content of non-opened letters mysteriously addressed to “The Occupier”. New boy Charlie looks like he might break the mould and actually land a role as Toothbrusher 7 but before he can do that there’s a rather disturbing initiation ceremony to get through.

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Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson and Felix Grainger’s play for their Make It Beautiful company, is mostly comic in tone and there are more than a few laugh out loud lines which poke fun at the acting industry and the almost disproportionate thrill its members experience when landing a role, no matter how humble. They also play Jimmy and Charlie, joined by Cara Steele as Cazza; all three also appear as other characters who are part of the trio’s lives. The group is excellent at capturing a mix of the pretentious and endearingly pathetic and tackle several pastiche scenes with energy and a huge sense of fun which both skewers as well as celebrates a number of genres.

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The show has been steadily evolving over the last two and a half years so wasn’t, as I wrongly began by assuming, jumping on the bandwagon of the success of one of TV’s lockdown hits Call My Agent. Besides which there is something much darker at the heart of this piece as these vulnerable people start to demonstrate paranoid tendencies re the never seen neighbours in the building. Then there’s the love hate relationship (both between themselves and of the industry in general) of Jimmy and Cazza and the ever present resentment concerning a former agency member who has landed a part in Silent Witness after being seduced away by a regular agent who is ironically Charlie’s mother’s significant other. All of this culminates in a bizarre initiation ceremony to fully welcome Charlie into the fold. This last fifteen minutes or so was, for me, too much of a change of tone and stretched the play beyond its natural life span.; maybe the absence of a director or dramaturge has allowed a little self-indulgence to creep in. Whatever the case, I wished that they had found a more satisfactory way of driving the narrative towards its climax although up until that point I had fully enjoyed this satirical account of life in “the biz”.

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And what of My Life As A Cowboy? My apologies to writer Hugo Timbrell and cast members David Angland, Tom Taplin and Sara Faraj for missing your show. Simply put your colleagues’ play was supposed to last 70 minutes but came in at more like 85. The knock on effect was that, having another commitment, I would have had to get up and leave the second play before it had finished, and I didn’t want to be seemingly disrespectful to what is a new piece of work. Hopefully it will have a life beyond Park Theatre’s festival; if it does do please give me a nudge and I’ll put things right. In the meantime, apologies once again and I hope the show goes down well.

The Co-Op (and, indeed My Life As A Cowboy) are part of the Come What May festival at Park Theatre – click here

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