Shot Glass Theatre's love letter to cinema's comedy-romps of old offers an ambitious commentary on contemporary arts coverage disguised in seventies sleaze
If anybody wondered why the latest Shot Glass Productions’ play, should be included in the 2016 Belfast Film Festival programme, the reason immediately becomes apparent. Conveyed as a South Banks Show-style send-up, Prick by John Higgins details the life and times of ageing actor Rod Chineham, best known for his sterling work in British sex comedies of the 1970s. Any resemblance to actors such as Robin Askwith is of course, intentional.
What works best in this witty production is the spoof arts show itself, brought to life by monochrome filmed footage projected stage right. The tone is perfect and Higgins gets the over-reverential lingo of the arts establishment to a tee.
So while Chineham, played with a beautiful, whiskery smugness by actor Nick Hardin, chats stage left to arts journalist with a past Lucy Louche, his one-time director Peter Duffer (superbly portrayed by Mark Claney) does a pratfall and indulges in plummy-voiced put downs of his former star.
The characters’ names, worthy of (Anthony) Trollope, indicate the broad brush stroke satire. With one Rod evidently not enough, a younger, also well acted version appears, performing scenes from a TV piece in the vein of Confessions.
Higgins describes his drama as a love letter to British genre films of the 1960s and 1970s but as with all satire, there is a bit more to it than that. In fact, the golden age of innocent smut and Grand-Guignol horror productions is set against an implied contemporary mean-spirited and grubby arts scene.
Nothing is accidental in life or the arts and while Mr Chineham rails against the fact that the powers that be, and Ms Louche, have decided to screen his least favourite low budget footballing-vampire horror flick, possibly a unique offering in this genre, we sense trouble ahead. And Ms Louche, an eager pundit very much in the mould of local arts star Marie-Louise Muir, albeit with a very different CV, insists on asking him some very strange questions.
Inevitably, it all ends in laughter – and some tears – as our ageing lothario luvvie feels obliged to join in the action sketched out by his energetic younger self.
Satire works by poking fun at its target and as Higgins’ best work here focuses on the Melvyn Braggery of cultural TV coverage, you won’t ever be able to admire Will Gompertz or any of the other arts correspondents on the small screen in the same way again.
Yet Prick's writer is not nihilistic about culture and when talking on the day of Ronnie Corbett's death, seemed genuinely upset at the loss of a key figure from the period his play scrutinizes.
The set at the Black Box is minimal as the performances, deliberately hammed up to eleven, are what occupy centre stage throughout. It's a feat pulled off to an effective degree by everyone involved.
After a night spent in the time that style forgot, but which warmth and heart certainly didn't, we're returned to the cruel present. And Rod Chineham certainly knows where he’d rather be.
With Higgins' previous play, a two-hander about the difficulties of the old man-woman relationship, having shown his Neil Simon-esque way with a situation, Prick pins down a much more ambitious dramatic attempt. I look forward to his next production with interest.
Belfast Film Festival continues until Saturday, April 23. For more information and tickets visit www.belfastfilmfestival.org and for upcoming events at the Black Box see www.blackboxbelfast.com. Stay up to date with Shot Glass by following their Facebook and Twitter.