Hanging Bruce-Howard

Hanging Bruce-Howard is a good old-fashioned piece of farce. So old-fashioned, in fact, that I am mystified by its presence at the Fringe. It’s as though the writer had followed to the letter a manual on how to construct a funny play. The result is technically flawless but uncomfortably unfunny and intensely conventional. Well-paced and valiantly acted, it was also very, very predictable. Faultless delivery by actors with good comic timing could not overcome an uninspired concept or breathe life into laboured jokes. The whole thing was oddly dated. New writing at the Fringe is often flawed, but rarely stale. ‘Hanging Bruce-Howard’ is the opposite: polished but entirely unoriginal. The humour is simply too contrived to get any big laughs from the audience.

Lloyd Bruce-Howard is an actor past his prime who is willing to go to silly lengths to reignite his career. An avalanche of contrivances, misunderstandings, personal grievances and character flaws join forces to ruin his plans. The humour relies on venerable devices such as mistaken identity, a pyramid of falsehoods which comes crashing down around the protagonist’s ears and even a body which must be kept hidden from a very important guest. Despite being ostensibly set in the present, the dialogue is straight out of P.G. Wodehouse. Nothing in the characters or the situation feels relevant. Characterization relies on obvious stereotypes more familiar from fiction than real life: the plummy, fading thespian, his loyal and put-upon housekeeper, his estranged wife and her painfully American boyfriend. We are treated to not one but two Johnny Foreigner Pidgin-English types - a Russian billionaire and a Polish plumber whom Bruce-Howard inevitably mixes up. The eventual encounter of the two lookalikes is admittedly one of the play’s funnier moments. But these are all characters we’ve seen before and their configuration here does not throw up any surprises.

A more receptive audience might have made a difference; as it was, the only proper laughter came towards the end, as Bruce-Howard’s schemes collapse in predictable chaos. It was such a textbook demonstration of the conventions of farce that I found myself wondering whether I was missing some subtle pastiche of the genre. Bringing absolutely nothing new to the table, it could have been any one of a hundred indistinguishable comedies of error. I don’t understand why such an obviously talented group of actors chose to bring this of all things to the Fringe.

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Performances

The Blurb

Lloyd Bruce-Howard is a hungover, washed-up actor looking for his next break. In his crumbling apartment he faces a stalker, an angry ex-wife, and a dramatic Russian billionaire, all demanding his hazy attention. www.gone-rogue.co.uk

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