Written by Robin Hooper and currently playing at the Arcola Theatre, Broken Lad is an examination of masculinity, father and son relationships, and morality. The new comedy touches upon these subjects, and more, as we learn about the lead character, Phil, and his failing stand-up comedy career.
Set above a pub in a makeshift dressing room, we watch as Phil openly and shamelessly wallows in self pity over the way his career has gone. Seemingly bitter about the success of a friend and feeling a bittersweet nostalgia from when he was a regular on Saturday night television, this one gig could be his big chance to make a comeback. However, Phil seems more likely to make excuses than actually go out and perform. It is difficult to relate to or feel sorry for this character; he comes across as arrogant, deeply flawed, misogynistic and cruel.
The relationship between Phil and his son Josh is strained to say the least; however, instead of the play exploring their relationship it simply seems to switch between Josh being angry and Josh laughing along with his dad, who he seems to idolise, with very little happening to actually rectify the issues between the two.
Ria, Josh’s girlfriend, comes across as assertive and confident, although occasionally her lines seem slightly forced. This can be said of all the characters sadly; the dialogue often does not flow particularly well. Ria is well dressed, with excellent connections and a highly driven personality, so you can’t help but wonder why she has any sort of interest in helping Phil. (This becomes clear later in the play, although it also left me with more questions than answers.
I did not find myself believing in Josh and Ria as a couple; there was no on-stage chemistry between the two at all. However, during some of the more emotional scenes, I did feel for Josh, who seemed to a positive, visceral reaction from the audience.
Liz, Phil’s ex wife and Josh’s mother, was brilliantly portrayed while sadly predictable. Ned, Phil’s friend and fan, was a welcome relief, being the only character to genuinely make me laugh.
The unfortunate thing about this play is that it is a comedy that simply isn’t funny. The few snatches of stand-up the audience gets is sadly disappointing and the play eventually seems to become a bit of a soap opera, full of arguments and shouting. Sadly, the characters are not likeable enough to really care about the outcome of the family drama.
Whilst the odd moment in this play was moving and the plot had moments of brilliance, ultimately this play fell a bit short, and the lack of laughs spoke volumes about this comedy.
Broken Lad will be playing at The Arcola Theatre until November 6th.