Nick Hall’s one-man cold war thriller is an active piece, darting through London, Amsterdam, and under the Iron Curtain to the heart of the Soviet Union, all in the pursuit of a board game tournament which could decide the fate of the world. It’s a tall order and Hall himself seems to have bitten off more than he can chew: whilst his story is tight and his dedication to playing every character is carried out with enthusiasm, he often ends up jogging to keep up with such a fast-paced conceit.
Hall has a skill at setting the scene. Through simple mimes and sound cues we’re immediately transported to Control’s office in London, the Commie subs or the canals of Holland.
Training up a member of MI5’s neighbour office MI17 for a World Scrabble Championship is a fun concept but requires a very determined performer to pull off such a far-fetched plot and prevent it from derailing into absurdity. Hall has a great easy-going attitude and tendency to deliver some witty ad-libs at the right time, but his bemusement as his own script allies him too closely with the audience instead of asserting himself as the performer. Sure, this would work nicely alongside another dynamic on stage, but coming out of character so often to lament his own jokes doesn’t really instill confidence in the audience. The ad-libbing also lets him down later- for a show about Scrabble, there’s an awful lot more picking words out of a hat (or little green bag) than any nifty wordplay.
Hall has a skill at setting the scene. Through simple mimes and sound cues we’re immediately transported to Control’s office in London, the Commie subs or the canals of Holland. It seems bizarre that recorded sound effects are used for some mimes and not for others- in chase sequences the use of music really heightens the tension and allows Hall to riff around tropes of spy films. Hall’s sense of parody is sound and this is where the show comes into its own- I was a fan of the opening title song which sends up James Bond musical numbers nicely whilst also carrying a pretty catchy tune. Again however, Hall’s enthusiasm isn’t quite on the mark to really make his song stand out- the lyrics are smart but his commitment to singing along feels a bit tired.
Admittedly, it might be because he’s playing every spy and assassin going. Hall explains that due to needing a mic, some physical gags are lost which is a shame but could be recompensed with a series of unique and dynamic characters. Instead, we’re presented characters whose accents do tend to bleed together after a while- understandably making the show confusing to keep up with when characters are being killed off to be replaced by very similar people. Hall’s stand out character is a Flashheart-esque anti-hero, Van Scallion. Van Scallion is fantastic- strapping, overly confident and prone to some bizarre similes, he sticks out amongst the sea of stereotypical spy thriller place-holders.
Hall has a smart show which ties together neatly at the end, it’s just his lack of confidence in the material which lets him down. The show does still have the feel of a preview- although with some sharpening around the edges and more from that Van Scallion it could have the power to make audiences suspend that disbelief.