Broken Lad at The Arcola Outdoor Theatre: Press night review by Stephen Vowles 

Written by Robin Hooper and directed by Richard Spier, with a firm grip on the four very succinct scenes, Broken Lad is a very good example of ensemble acting where the four characters need to bounce off each other to make the whole piece gel, to work. This then creates a tempo, a beat to the play which, when it is executed correctly like this, make the jokes land and the message of the play is put across. 

Patrick Brennan plays Phil, a comic, once big and now needing a break to try and restore some kind of career and to overcome all the obstacles that now face him. Hooper, I feel perhaps for inspiration has channelled the likes  of Northern comics  ike Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, and other stalwarts of the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club to flesh out this character. This is not a bad thing as the crude, lewd character with his self-deprecation, and the slight dismissal of women, gave the character some flesh and bone. 

As each scene played out I must confess I was a bit confused as to what the message of the play was. Is this a lesson? An examination in confrontation, rivalry, settling old scores, reconnection with a son, and a wife? Hooper does  achieve the point that life’s skills have to be taught, respect earned and friendships valued.

Josh, Phil’s son in the play, played by Dave Perry needs a little bit of work, refining the character which I think will come as the run continues. Acting honours have to go to Adrian McLoughlin as Ned, an ageing gay man who knows how he wants to live his life. Hooper also gives this character some of the best lines; for example “Adventure before dementia”, wonderfully delivered. 

Phil’s wife Liz played by Carolyn Backhouse and Ria Josh’s girlfriend played by Yasmin Paige have nearly all of scene 3 together. Here to be honest the play falters, the connection between the two characters is hostile but nowhere bitchy enough as each of the women shared their secret in how they have dealt and will deal with the men in their lives. They perform with a competency that should not be dismissed, but just need a little more oomph!

This is a wonderful look at success and failure, and of dreaming it big where due to the situation, location and circumstances, emotions become raw and honest. This is never more apparent than in the fabulous and gritty monologue that Hopper give to Phil towards the end of the play. Being a man, proving your masculinity, can also be fragile, distressing and bloody hard work to pull off. 


Broken Lad at the Arcola Outdoor Theatre runs to Saturday 6th November at 24 Ashwin Street London E8 3DL. Box office 020 7503 1646

Photos: David Monteith-Hodge   

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