Do theatres actually read scripts before agreeing to stage them?

8 May 2021

9:00 AM

8 May 2021

9:00 AM

Money, until 15 May

Rocky Road

Jermyn Street Theatre, via, until 30 May


Southwark Playhouse

Money is a new internet play about financial corruption starring Mel Giedroyc. She appears on-screen for less time than it takes to eat a Malteser. Giedroyc plays the boss of a palm-oil firm that wipes out orangutan habitats in Asia and wants to launder its reputation by donating cash to a London charity. A million quid is on the table.

The charity staff meet via Zoom to discuss the gift. But first they brief each other about their latest activities which, predictably enough, consist of stoking grievances and spreading self-pity. Their charitable aims include ‘tackling local loneliness’, and ‘breaking down barriers based on age, race and gender’. The meeting then moves to the big question: should they accept cash from a firm that kills cuddly animals? Obviously not. Equally obviously, they shouldn’t even discuss it.

The dramatist, Isla van Tricht, seems not to have spotted that any disgruntled member of staff could easily destroy the organisation by leaking the contents of the meeting. ‘Community leaders secretly discussed £1 million bung from oil firm accused of endangering wildlife.’ That headline would sink any charity. Corruption in the not-for-profit sector is a fascinating topic, but it deserves the attention of a heavyweight writer.

Rocky Road is a new thriller livestreamed from the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre. The stage has been ingeniously configured to represent two flats occupied by neighbours in a housing block. Zoe is a glamorous beauty whose career involves lots of international travel. She sets out to befriend a bearded moron, Danny, who works as a cab driver and spends his spare time screaming at his kitchen table. There’s a twist here. The pair met once before, on a London street, a decade earlier, when Danny stabbed Zoe multiple times with a dagger. He served nine years for the attack. So it’s quite a puzzle that he fails to recognise his victim. But Zoe is no fool. She’s changed her name (from Robyn), and she wears her dark hair hidden beneath a blonde wig that makes her look like Jimmy Savile.

Her purpose is to discover why Danny tried to kill her. But the drama takes 70 meandering minutes to reach this point. And the script is crammed with unanswered questions and non-sequiturs. How did Danny conceal his criminal past from the cab firm that employs him? He also works part-time as a maintenance man at the block of flats and he owns a ‘master key’ to every apartment. Who allowed that to happen? His probation officer seems to have slipped up. Finally, the play gets started and Zoe pops the question. ‘Why did you do it?’ He answers in banalities. ‘Not a day goes by that I don’t regret it,’ he mopes.

After this, the script grinds to a halt for another 15 minutes. Then something else happens. Zoe decides to take revenge on Danny. Her plan goes awry and the drama ends in a hysterical and somewhat baffling stalemate. In fact, it doesn’t really end. It just ceases to continue. Do theatres actually read scripts before agreeing to stage them? This bizarre effort, by Shaun McKenna, asks us to believe that female victims of assault become fixated with their attackers and invest time and energy trying to rescue them emotionally. What a daft idea.

Georgie Henley, from the Chronicles of Narnia series, stars in a new monologue by Philip Ridley. It begins as a charming boy-meets-girl story in Bethnal Green. Toni works at a hospice for the elderly — ‘old faces are so beautiful’, she says — and she agrees to meet a local boy for a date in Weavers Fields. But the pair are being followed by a gang of mobsters whose leader sports a spider tattoo on his throat. Just as Toni is about to enjoy the first romantic kiss of her life, her boyfriend is hacked down and stabbed to death.

The killing, according to Toni, is an initiation rite that earns the murderer promotion within the gang. But why did they let Toni go? Her escape creates more work, and more risk, for the killers. To enforce her silence they start a campaign of intimidation, targeting her home and threatening her baby sister in the street. Toni and her family are terrified. They seem to have full confidence in the power of the criminals and zero confidence in the power of the law. Eventually they clear out of London and start new lives for themselves. And the play turns into a sugary tale of redemption and family bonding. The first half hour, in Bethnal Green, is dramatic and thrilling. The rest is sweet but dull.

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