Writer and Director: Simon David Eden
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Set in Brighton at the tail end of the 1970s, The Gift of the Gabis a comic look at the antics of a group of crooks, who hang out at a greasy-spoon café. As the title suggests, there is a good deal of talk in this play, and unfortunately, in the first half particularly, precious little action. Despite some game acting by the cast, most of the jokes fall flat and what we’re left with is a rainy day at the seaside.
The play begins energetically enough with Gabe, Arthur and Stanley trying to inveigle themselves into people’s houses. Claiming they are working for a security firm, the three men are really casing the joint, seeing if anything is worth stealing at a later date. But as soon at the action moves to the Rizzini café, all momentum is lost and the first extended gag about a new shoe design is exasperating. Offering no backstories for any of the characters, writer and director Simon David Eden seems to hope that we will get to know these people through their words and actions, but they remain hastily drawn. Only the philosophising Gabe, played sympathetically by Ross Boatman has any depth. Otherwise, the men talk about their grifts as a dying art, and are more concerned with the new Sales of Goods Act, which will make their scams illegal, than they are with the Winter of Discontent or with the last of the punks running riot.
They are joined in the café by its owner Ric and his daughter Concetta, Italian immigrants, and so cue comedy accents and fiery Latin tempers. A joke with Ric tackling tongue-twisters while arguing, very loudly, and very animatedly in Italian with the occupants of an unseen car is not funny, and yet this sketch is repeated three times in the first half alone. In Ric’s quieter moments Ivanhoe Norona embodies him with some subtle grace, but his louder moments are reminiscent of stereotypes in 1970s’ sitcoms. Madalina Bellariu is given the pitiful role of Concetta, who is trapped in the café by her father and her leg brace. Her character is so one-dimensional that it’s difficult to care if she escapes or not.
The only crook getting the laughs here is Toe-Rag, Brighton’s answer to Huggy Bear from Starksy and Hutch. In ‘70s garb, and an Afro to match, Harold Addo is genuinely funny and his plan to steal a first edition of a valuable book with Gabe’s nephew Winkle does make up for a lack of narrative. However, their adventure taking place in the second half of the play is seriously hampered by some long and clunky set changes. Indeed, most of this half seems to consist of unnecessary set changes, slowing down the action to a crawl. The set, by Sim E Sigh, authentically takes us back to the ‘70s but does it really matter where the retro ketchup bottles are placed? Without this intrusive fiddling, this play could zip along quite quickly.
This is not the Brighton of Graham Greene or even of crime writer, Peter James. For them, the city becomes a character in its own right, but The Gift of the Gab could be set anywhere. We have no sense that we are near the sea, or that on some days the city is full of holidaymakers. With the Michael Caine accent of Charlie Allen, who plays Stanley, we could be in London, rather than London-by-the-Sea. Never has a seagull’s squawk been more needed.
Runs until 9th June 2018 | Image: Contributed