What is The Bastard Children of Remington Steele? It has enough energy to be many things and enough intelligence to do them well. But in the end it shoots itself in the foot by trying to be many things at once. Whimsical and well intentioned, it never manages to be anything in particular and so ends up feeling rather hollow instead. This is more disappointing than if it had just been bad. There are obvious sparks of inspiration that prove that The Bastard Children of Remington Steele could have been so much more.
There is the undeniable ring of good writing and good acting about it, so why is it so unengaging?
It is the tale of three orphans who want to protect the illusion of a fourth orphan, who believes that she is the child of 80’s TV character Remington Steele.The play asks at what point dreams turn from comforting fantasies to damaging delusions. It is a promising premise. But then the play begins to expand in all directions: a satire on sexual politics in the media here, a celebration of childhood here, an elegy for broken dreams there. But none of the parts really add up, despite being individually quite strong.
In place of coherence The Bastard Children of Remington Steele offers kookiness, which in smaller doses would have been fine. But after the twentieth joke about how one character really likes ham and the thirtieth attempt at increasingly bizarre cockney slang the kooky begins to crumble. There are also certain problems with tone. Some of the emotional turns are clunky; characters feel frog marched from this emotion to that without much psychological plausibility.
The performances are broadly uneven. Each actor plays multiple characters with varying levels of success. Sadie Hasler (also the writer) is perky as the child Sylvia and quite moving as a nun, but is less impressive as a comic moron. Sarah Mayhew (also the director) is simply annoying as the overly quirky Beatrice. She is much better as Sylvia’s boozy mother, but this is a small role. Edward Mitchell is probably the strongest here. His characters are consistently funny and engaging, having to carry certain scenes.
The Bastard Children of Remington Steele is an odd show. There is the undeniable ring of good writing and good acting about it, so why is it so unengaging? It ultimately feels like an unexpected misstep taken by talented people, constantly tantalising us with how good it could have been compared to how bad it is.