Off The Kings Road by Neil Koenigsberg at Jermyn Street Theatre

offthekingsroad

You know something is a bit suspect when you see three different sets of five stars on a billboard… from the same reviewer… This was the case for ‘Off The Kings Road’. Lucky however we did not notice this slight irregularity until we left, otherwise we might not have sat down with such an open mind.

Matt Brown is a recent widower who has decided to take a trip to London to celebrate his birthday. He checks in to an exclusive town house hotel in Chelsea and tries to take his mind off his bereavement. Struggling with his loneliness he has the help of chirpy bell boy, Freddie, his on-call doctor in America and his medication to try and get him through his depression. Despite meeting the only other guest in the hotel, Ellen, a widow of a similar age he decides to see a Russian prostitute to cure his loneliness. Eventually he plans a date with Ellen but suffers an anxiety attack which prevents this from happening.

The relationship between Matt and Ellen, played by gifted actors, Michael Brandon and Cherie Lunghi, was potentially the most interesting aspect of the plot but it was not developed. They would have benefited from a story that showcased them together but instead they barely had a full scene together. When not alone with Matt, we are with Freddie. Although superfluous, Freddie was a much needed bit of light relief, but most of the time it felt as if he was in the wrong play. Maybe he came from ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’ across the road. The dialogue was intermittently interesting but for the rest of the time it was dull. The play dragged and we got to a stage when we just wanted it to end.

The play was written by Neil Koenigsberg, the entertainment guru who founded PR big hitters, PMK. This was a bold career change. Clearly he has the wherewithal, the support and the celebrity friends to help kickstart a career in playwriting – Academy Award Winner Jeff Bridges played Matt’s doctor via Skype. This play already had two showcase productions in NYC and we wonder at what point a decent play will emerge.

There were glimpses of something here. A design moment when the TV seemed to take over the whole stage was effective and a profound line from prostitute, Sheena, about fairytales came across very truthfully. As mentioned, Freddie, offered some respite to a very dreary play. But was he directed to be over-the-top and completely un-naturalistic as a way of saving the piece or was it intended on its own merits? Our feeling was that it was damage limitation by director, Alan Cohen.

Jeff Bridges’ appearances were briefly entertaining, but in fact, we often found ourselves inspecting our fellow audience members for signs of boredom and tiredness in these scenes. We did not come to watch a TV; we came to see theatre. This was the effect of having to focus on a Skype chat making the rest of the stage irrelevant. For us, it did not work at all.

People say there are not enough plays out there dealing with old people and their issues – having physical pain in an ageing body, dealing with loneliness and boredom, and finding a new partner later on. But you can never avoid the basic prerequisite of good writing. Two older folks were asleep in the back row for most of the play. They probably were not the only ones.

Not such a good start from Neil Koenigsberg, but let’s hope for better things. Good performances despite the piece, from all four actors, Luke Pitman, Michael Brandon, Cherie Lunghi and Diana Dimitrovici.

Highlight of the piece – Freddie’s completely out of place comedy.

WIGS 1/5

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