Have we got Muse for them... it's flawed but worthy!

Review by Paul Nelson


THERE are many good things in the seriously flawed play Have I Got Muse For You at the Old Red Lion in Islington, the first good thing being the production and the first flaw being the title.

Reminiscent of the days when plays staggered under the weight of titles like Mary Had A Little, it is clear that the author has missed his way from the outset.

The exposition at the beginning is far too long and too frivolous and suggests a pilot for a failed TV sitcom. Indeed the cast cannot be blamed for their early over projection which looks and sounds as though they are explaining a joke to a deaf child a few streets away.

The play happens in the flat of Ed, a computer geek who is a budding and as yet unpublished author. Shy and retiring, almost tongue tied, and with writers' block, he amuses and abuses himself with the centre folds.

His tenants are Tim, a charming and self possessed 'something in the city', constantly reading the pages of the newspapers, and Petra, a waitress and wannabe Spice Girl type, dying to break into show business in a girlie group.

In a hi-tech set also reminiscent of TV sitcoms, sofa centre, entrance either side, the first half hour drags along with the endless exposition laid on with a trowel, in other words no plot.

It is only when surfing the net and the geek finds the website of a beautiful model that, as he finds a meaning to his life the author seemingly simultaneously stumbles on the core of the play.

Carried away by his zeal for Espree, the beautiful model, he starts to fantasise yet again, this time about how rich she is, how famous, and how very special to him and he to her.

The evening really starts to move when she answers his emails, which she admits later to have been a foolish act. Read into that what you will.

When she turns up she freely points out that she is not a supermodel, merely a 'catalogue' not a 'catwalk' type. Her modelling career hardly lets her leave the country, and she lives not in a penthouse but in a former council flat she has bought in Walthamstow.

The down to earth sincerity of this character puts a stop to all the gallery playing of the others and they begin to show traits of being normal and real people.

Petra has started making a move on her chosen career. She spends her time between waitressing by going to the auditions to be a member of the planned new group Electric Breasts. In this she achieves a certain amount of success.

Meanwhile her eyes have been opened to the handsome flat sharer Tim and the two become an item.

Ed has fallen heavily for Espree and has started being creative at last. Looks like he will be a writer after all.

So, with a quartet of friendly and attractive people in love and on the move what can go wrong?

The rotten apple in the barrel, that's what.

The charming Tim is a lying bounder and desperate for money to feed his fantasy life as a successful high flyer. He blackmails Espree for a sum to be paid weekly. How can he do this? Espree, it is here revealed, is a transsexual, born a male, and having been re-adjusted has embarked on a career as a model.

Unfortunately, as she is very sincere, she has delayed admitting to Ed her true background until she is sure he actually loves her. When it is revealed that Tim has been fired because of theft, not from his job in the city but from a very lowly job as an admin clerk in Purley, the truth emerges not only about him but also about Espree.

He has incidentally, ripped off Petra's savings.

The happiness in the flat is shattered. Petra, now a member of the pop group realises she has been looked on as a potential breadwinner and is gutted, and Ed when finally faced with the truth about Espree is equally destroyed along with his budding salvation.

The play ends with him advertising for another couple of tenants, in a Freudian fashion one male and one female but not a couple as such.

Reading this over I have actually made the play sound more interesting than it is.

The dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. At the start of the play, it is flip and unbelievable.

Much later, when Ed has found out about Espree, his questioning of her is very badly handled and the audience laughs in quite seriously a wrong place. Though this is the most obvious point, it is not the only instance of dialogue failing to cut the mustard and match the drama of the scene.

What is needed, and what the audience yearned for, is a serious confrontation between the four. On the one hand, the disgusted Petra and the now shamed Tim and on the other, the liberated soul (Ed) and his devoted lover who had brought his liberation about. Instead, both scenes are over in a few minutes, all sorts of ideas and questions left undone.

Hell, it is the crux of the play!

It is through the efforts of the cast and director that the audience gains its obvious enjoyment of this piece. As for me, in spite of my misgivings, this new production company was worth the trip to Outpost Islington.

Have I Got Muse For You by Iain Regnier-Wilson, Directed by Andrew Neil, Set Design by Ken McClymont, Original Music by Yana Dugal. WITH Graham Dalton (Tim), Robert J Francis (Ed), Charlotte Atkinson (Petra), Eleanor Caird (Espree). Presented by Cock A Snook Productions, Producer Richard Herbert at The Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, Islington N1. 020 7837 7816.