Writer: Fred Lawless
Director: Bob Eaton
Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby
A huge coat hanger looms over the jaunty blue and yellow set of the backroom of a dry cleaners, like the poles of circus tent. The allusion to a circus conjures up images of mirth and entertainment, and there is indeed some clowning in the play, but A Fistful of Collars fails to deliver anything more subtle than slapstick and, when it tries, is often just groan-worthy.
Pat and Eileen are sisters running a dry cleaning business that is going down the tubes. When their gangster landlord isn’t laundering drugs money next door, he’s hiking the rent on their premises, making their business unviable. Rather than relocate, as surely any logic would have driven them to do, they decide to reposition the business as an upmarket specialist cleaners, thereby, attracting the designer frocks of celebrities, which they can then hire out at a hefty day rate to save the business. Again for no fathomable reason, this entails answering the phone in a French accent, kidnapping the gangster’s PA, drugging a Special Constable and convincing him he’s a spy, and endless ridiculous and only occasionally amusing plot devices. Comedy must follow the logic of the world in which it exists and this world just makes no sense. It’s more a series of ever more surreal sketches that barely link together. It lacks the solid structure and consistent characterisation required of a good comedy.
The script is a real problem. Eaton claims to have rewritten A Fistful of Collars to sharpen and tighten it. The only conclusion is that the original play produced in 2010 must have been lamentable. A typical line (on examining a counterfeit note): “That’s not the Queen. It looks more like Lily Savage.” This is the kind of play where you know that a character called ‘Eileen’ is going to face the line, ‘Come on, Eileen’ at some point, and she does. Ignoring that, a lot of the character’s actions make no sense, they could at least be working to feed the audience great one liners. That would be forgivable, but there are none.
What comedy that there is in the play comes from the actors. There are some great moments that they make funny. Alan Stocks taking a spin in a tumble dryer is hilarious, as is a moment of faked intimacy between him and Lindzi Germain’s Pat, and Angela Simms’ face as she ran out of French words to try to con a caller with. The actors do work really hard throughout to try to create energy and laughter but it a Sisyphean task with the script they have. Bob Eaton’s direction is broad stroke and often crude leaving the actors mugging at the audience or shouting or repeatedly screaming to get attention. They even laugh at their own punchlines in some of the early scenes, ensuring the audience do not.
A Fistful of Collars is less of a spaghetti western and more of a dog’s dinner. One to avoid.
Runs until 20August 2016 | Image: Bond Media