The value of art, human redemption, dead labradoodles... all are at stake in David Leddy’s latest fast-paced comedy about the forgery of art and the art of forgery. It is (ostensibly) a verbatim play based on a true story but which also toys with Brecht, abstract painting and some funky scat jazz. Who could want more?
The story follows Jim and Liz, old time con artists looking for the next big thing. What they stumble upon perversely is the age old world of commercial art, primarily for its ‘retro appeal.’ They dive into this world of shady economics with more enthusiasm than skill and from this point on an enjoyable farce unfolds which manages to combine a metaphysical search for reality with quite extreme figurative violence, as well as some jokes.
Leddy’s script is impressive, balancing its diverse themes deftly while simultaneously allowing enough time for gags as well as giving the characters enough space to develop. Neil McCormack and Wendy Seager are quite superb as the two main characters; their relationship was made to seem both absurd and touching. However, they did flow into different minor characters throughout and some of these were decidedly weaker. For instance, the most shocking thing about the villain of the piece, a Russian gangster, was just how boring he was.
As an intriguing piece questioning how we think of art, Long Live works quite well. There are lots of postmodern tricks such as breaking the fourth wall, a stage manager who performs in the show, deliberate technical malfunctions and even a fanciful tale about the Leddy himself meeting his characters in a pub - thus creating another layer of fakery around this quite dizzying play. However as a comedy it was often disappointingly lethargic and laboured. It seemed the primary source of humour was simply about how the actors changed accents.
As a satire it was very much wanting. In the target rich environment of laisser-faire economics and our often misguided approach to art Long Live the Little Knife was simply too blunt to draw blood. With the notable exception of an exquisite parody of Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin, the humour was rather tepid. There were even times when it was hard to tell if a line was meant to be serious or whether it was simply another joke that had fallen flat.
An accomplished but flawed play Long Live the Little Knife is well worth a look for anyone interested in self-reflexive devices, despite being no oil painting.