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
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
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
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