The club in which Gabe Day is set seems to have the ambience of Babylove, the clientele of a Monday night at Purple Turtle and a gurning DJ of the sort you might see supporting his cousin at Carbon. Incompetence, personal disagreements and a general atmosphere of Jäger-laced chaos provide the comedic backbone to this highly promising piece of new writing.
Rory Platt, who wrote the play and directs alongside Kate Legh, has done well to give his actors naturalistic dialogue free of the cliché and sloppiness which typifies much student writing, especially comedy. There is a laser-like accuracy in the way he consistently finds exactly the right words each situation demands; a reference to a feckless DJ sniffing “Toilet Duck” and a dismissal of the club as a “wet-arsed indie night” are two examples of this wit and precision.
Less convincing is the narrative arc concerning a televangelist’s prediction of doomsday, which coincides with the less eschatological chaos within the club. The connection feels somewhat arbitrary, despite Platt’s attempts to explain it to me, and it is to be hoped this will not detract from a play which feels more like an episode of a sitcom than anything more laden with ambiguity and portents of doom.
It is Fawlty Towers which springs most immediately to mind. The relationship between club promoters Charlie (played by George Ferguson) and Kate (Sara Ahmed) is in many respects a carbon copy of that between Basil and Sybil. Ferguson does an excellent job of manifesting a deeply unappealing cocktail of Cleese-esque bluster, bombast and prejudice, and this is tempered by the sardonic sniping of the equally convincing Ahmed. Some of the dialogue, particularly the profanity, does sound unnatural in Ferguson’s pompous tones, but whether deliberate or not this artificiality in fact befits his characterisation as a man utterly out of his depth.
If this is Fawlty in the Club, then the role of bumbling waiter Manuel is taken by the manically gurning DJ Cooper, a role performed with gusto by Michael Roderick. The comedy here derives not from a thick Catalan accent but from the amphetamines Cooper has been shovelling up his flared nostrils by the bucketload. Physically, his impressive performance nears pantomime, as the jerky exuberance of the chemically impaired is matched by moments of glassy-eyed earnestness and different parts of his jaw appear to move entirely autonomously of one another.
Vocally, he does miss the mark a little; his delivery is too forceful and his cadence at times too aggressive for a man in the grip of ecstasy. It is also a shame that Simon (Nick Fanthorpe) is reduced to the role of a sober straight man, as Cooper writhes on his lap sharing intimate philosophical truths and complimenting his eyebrows.
With other cast members Maude Morrison and Priya Manwaring absent due to exams, and scripts still in hand, it seems likely these issues will be ironed out by the time the company makes the daunting trip to a two-week run at the Fringe. The cast is strong enough and the script packed with enough vivacity and bite that Gabe Day can aspire to great things, bringing wit, charm and the spirit of Oxford’s finest clubbing establishments to Edinburgh this summer.