Head Games exposed at Oval House

Review by Paul Nelson

TO MY great surprise, Oval House, usually a staid drama house with the odd bit of political comedy thrown in, is at present home to a new farce that has no message at all and is purely there to entertain. Head Games, by Scott Miller, does exactly that.

The audience threw themselves wholeheartedly into both the premise and the performances, some of which are extremely good and sincerely funny.

The premise that a theatre producer cannot make money unless he titillates the audience is very near to the bone because that is exactly this play 's aim. Apparently, the idea came to the author because he was in exactly the same position, he had produced a gay comedy with enormous success and failed in every other respect. After a fruitless search for a successor to the first sell-out, he therefore decided to try to write one himself.

It is the 40th birthday of gay theatre producer/director Michael Holden, and his friends gather round for a party. Grace has arrived early and is availing herself of a budding local celebrity, Eddie 'The Naked Masseur'. During the massage, Eddie proclaims himself to be the soul of discretion, he will divulge the names of his more famous clients but never what he does with or to them.

Their frank discussion is very funny and the party gets into full gear when the guests arrive. They are quite a diverse bunch. The 'married' gay couple, Charles and Dan, have been together for roughly six years. Dan is the quiet homely type, Charles one of the most flamingly flamboyant queens you will ever see depicted on stage, and the actor plays him expertly.

Grace's fiancé, Tucker, shows discomfort at the surroundings and the nature of the party, and the final late arrival is Willie, an out of work actor whose one appearance was in a Michael Holden production in which he had two lines to speak (one off-stage).

The puncturing of everyone's ego and exposure of the untruths they live under and expect everyone else to believe constitutes the remainder of the plot which gets out of hand after the disclosures affect everyone's behaviour. Michael furiously takes down all the witty sallies and asides, converting the evening into his next gay play, and, hopefully, a success.

It is during these revelations that the play becomes pure farce and is all the better for that. Modern farces are few and far between, that alone makes this one welcome.

The major highlight among many worthy moments is a mime performed by Charles (Nick Smithers) to 'And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going' and his brilliantly funny impersonation of what must be Diana Ross brings a well earned round of applause and cheers. There are other excellent performances, one cannot help but admire that of Tucker (Fergus March), a performance which instantly springs to mind, as does the Puckish Eddie of Sean Pritchett.

None of the cast let the side down, all are gifted and endowed with youth, and young casts looking good and behaving excellently in a play makes one realise the theatre isn't so deep in the doldrums after all.

The play, which only lasts the length of a TV or radio play (about one hour and 10 minutes) comes to an abrupt and amusing end when the author runs out of plot, gags to write and male bodies to strip.

It's well worth a go.

Head Games by Scott Miller, Directed by Jeff Moody, Designer Justin Ward Taylor, WITH: Katie Marks (Grace), Sean Pritchett (Eddie), Daniel Dresner (Michael Holden), Nick Smithers (Charles), Simon Frewin (Dan), Fergus March (Tucker), Neil Johnson (Willie). Presented by Strawberry Theatre at Oval House (Downstairs), 52-54 Kennington Oval, SE11. Tickets 020 7582 7680.

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