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A first-time writer worth giving a speech about


Review by Paul Nelson

JOHN Herbert is a new writer. After pursuing a career in an entirely different field, he has decided his vocation is to write for the theatre.

His first play to see the light of day is Best Men, currently on view at the Hen and Chickens Theatre, and it turns out to be an interesting and worthy exercise.

I suppose I could say of it that, at its worst, it resembles an episode in a television situation comedy, which would be quite close to the mark.

At best, it's a damn good one. The dialogue, mostly witty epigrams for our day, is a series of one liners designed to make the audience laugh, which it does repeatedly, though at times it appears to be wondering why it is laughing.

Curiously, for a new writer, the play deals with writer's block.

An historian, Henry, is writing a speech for his friend, Tony's wedding to Fiona, at which he will be best man.

He is having no luck and, after several attempts, almost gives up. Enter Alison, a girl friend, seeking a place to hang while her own flat is being decorated.

Examining several attempts at the speech, she decides that what Henry needs is a researcher as he seems not to know his friend at all.

Matters become complicated due to the fact that she assumes a different name, best mate Tony falls for her, as indeed Henry has already done, and there follows as complicated a piece of mistaken identity and fidelity swapping as you could wish.

To further complicate matters, Henry is also in the running for a girl he met briefly, recognized as his Muse, with whom he immediately lost touch as they had identical address books and though they exchanged addresses, also exchanged address books.

Henry has an address book with his own address in it and she, Yvonne, has, well you get the drift.

It turns out that Fiona, somewhat man hungry, has designs on Henry, Yvonne turns up, and the proceedings come to an unraveled conclusion with no bones broken.

A sub plot concerning a business development is wrapped round the whole and keeps the pot boiling.

What is really surprising about the evening is that, apart from the actor playing Henry, who has sussed it all out from the start, no-one has told the cast it is a farcical comedy.

Suddenly, about 20 minutes into the evening, Tony begins behaving in an OTT manner and he is then followed by the rest of the cast.

From then onwards, the play picks up its skirts and runs, and as it gets faster, it gets funnier. However, it suffers badly from the shaky start and provides the cast with an uphill task.

The audience enjoyed the evening as, eventually, did the cast and with a series of delightful scenes that are genuinely well plotted the evening skips by.

It is not an earth shaking event, and even in an age starved of farcical comedy, it does not fulfill its aim to bridge the gap, but with a little work it could be made into a much more successful event.

From past experience, the best advice to the author is to shelve this one, take up the pen again and keep at it. He is a capable writer on this showing, the disciplines will come and eventually take over and I look forward to eventually crowing about the fact that I saw his first attempt.

Best Men by John Herbert, Directed by James Pearson, Designed by Simon Doe. WITH: Charlie Carter (Henry), Audrie Woodhouse (Alison), Paul Barrass (Will), Rachel Donovan (Fiona), Graham Dalton (Tony), Collette Fraser (Yvonne). Produced by John Herbert at the Hen and Chickens Theatre, 109 St Paul's Road, Islington, N1. Tickets 020 7704 2001

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