Threesome

Tabard Theatre, 19 January – 6 February 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The stated purpose of Threesome is to shock. In that way it’s a lot like its central characters, Poppy and Bella, a pair of vapid rich bitches whose only desires in life are money and celebrity. Fame, fortune and shock value are all meaningless unless sought in the service of a greater goal; and with no greater goal in sight (despite high-falutin’ programme notes bemoaning “the infantilisation of a generation”), Threesome is just that: meaningless.

What’s worse is that despite having no purpose other than to horrify and disgust, the play is tame in almost every respect.

The premise is farce by numbers, predictable from start to finish. The girls have zero money (having maxed out Daddy’s credit cards on Gucci shoes), zero food for their upcoming dinner party, zero common sense and one generous (and generously proportioned) online stalker. It’s not a difficult equation to balance.

Interesting characters can make a predictable story easier to endure, but Poppy and Bella aren’t just stereotypes, they’re both the same stereotype. Colin the mouthbreathing internet lothario isn’t so much a character as a selection of kinks and quirks hanging on a straw man. The cast play it the only sensible way – like, totally OTT, dahling – but nothing they can do can make their characters likeable, relatable or even believably human.

There are sex toys, but only of the innocent high-street novelty variety – furry handcuffs, edible underwear, a vibrator. There is sex, but it’s censored behind the back of the sofa. There is dismemberment, but it’s conducted entirely offstage. There is cannibalism, but not of anything resembling a human body part (the only obscene thing about the sequence is the amount of mustard he puts on it).

What is offensive about the play is its attitude towards its female characters. Though Colin is largely a figure of fun, Freddie Lancaster’s performance is at times genuinely threatening, and there’s a deeply uncomfortable sequence in which he throttles a clearly terrified Poppy and forces her to strip. We’re expected to find this funny because, y’know, she wouldn’t be in that situation if she hadn’t been so materialistic and naïve; but that’s the dramatic equivalent of standing in the dock protesting, “She was asking for it, your honour – she was wearing hot pants.”

It’s difficult to know who’s to blame: Hal Iggulden, co-author of the phenomenally successful Dangerous Book for Boys, is credited as the playwright, but the programme claims in the same sentence that Threesome was “devised by the company”. It’s a contradiction that may well work in Iggulden’s favour; if I were him, I’d want to distance myself from this show as quickly and completely as possible.

Written by Hal Iggulden (or was it?)

Crew includes Harry Nicholls (director), Sarah Oxley (set designer) and Grace d’Etienne (wardrobe)

Cast includes Rachel Chambers (Poppy), Freddie Lancaster (Colin), Shirley Leigh-Wood Oakes (Bella – understudying for Rita Walters), and Ed Stephens (Luke)

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