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The Poof Downstairs – Battersea Arts Centre, London

Writer: Jon Haynes

Reviewer: Christopher Hong


PoofDownstairsDespite the title, homosexuality is merely coincidental rather than central to this piece. The audience is introduced to the play written by Jon Haynes and performed by Haynes with two other people. But unfortunately, the other two have not turned up for various reasons and the play will have to struggle on without them. Luckily, Haynes is a capable performer and has a great voice for the different rôles. Mannerisms and quirks are laid bare and distinctly realised. Unfortunately, the positives of this show end here. Haynes’ pre-show chat promises the audience a play but the audience never quite gets to the play itself.

Instead, the chat digresses into a collection of autobiographical anecdotes. It starts with a brief recollection of school days and how Haynes met one of the actors who failed to show up, and then drifts into some domestic scenes with his parents. And it continues hopping from one aside to another.

There is a distinctive, conversational style to the delivery which suits the material since it feels like ramblings anyway. It is difficult to see where the material is heading and the absence of irony and humour highlights this lack of direction. Even the one or two jokes are delivered as throw away lines and their impact is lessened by quickly moving on. There are attempts to include details and idiosyncrasies to enliven the characters but they feel like distractions. Some are rather annoying, such as the father’s throat clearing cough every time he speaks. While they could be endearing, we never get to spend enough time with each character to see his purpose in the story.

Every attempt to launch into some potentially interesting strand of thestory is scuppered by “maybe I should tell you this first…” which shatters any momentum in the material. If it is set out to be a wandering series of anecdotes, it really needs a stronger emotional or narrative pay off at the end to justify the set up. Ultimately, it feels indulgent and self-centred and difficult to empathise.

Runs until 16th November

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