Writer: Tom Wright
Director: Rikki Beadle-Blair
Writing like the adopted son of Joe Orton and J.B. Priestley, Tom Wright presents new his play about sex and fatherhood at South London’s Omnibus Theatre. Very Special Guest Star is a drawing room farce with some very sharp edges.
And what a drawing room it is! Set designer Natalie Johnson completely transforms the Omnibus space removing one of the false walls to reveal real windows looking out on to the street and with an enormous green sofa and yellow curtains, her drawing room is sleek, and is a nod to the privileges of the owners, Phil and Michael.
Orton’s first play begins with Kath entertaining Mr Sloane in her house in the hope that he will become her new lodger. She falls in love with him quite quickly, but Orton hints at incestuous desire too as Sloane is about the same age as her child, who she’d given up at birth, would be. Wright’s Very Special Guest Star starts in a similar way.
Phil and Michael, both in their 40s, have brought home a young man from the nightclub. Phil and Michael have been together for 16 years but have successfully navigated their relationship through honesty and openness. In the past they have had threesomes and sanctioned affairs, but since adopting baby Noah, the couple have been going through a period of monogamy. Having sex with Quasim will bring a welcome end to the drought.
Both older men are nervous, however, with Phil fussing with the cushions and his Ipad while Michael fixes drinks and takes off his clothes. Only Quasim seems relaxed, wandering around the flat with the confidence of good looks and youth. But he, too, seems happy enough to take his time, and the audience begins to wonder when the sex will eventually commence.
In an effect to spice up desire, the three engage in a little role-play, and its dynamics of a refugee/policemen relationship, for Quasim is somewhere from the Middle East, is so uncomfortable to watch that you begin to think that Wright (like Orton, before him) has gone too far. However, the story changes tack when Quasim removes his t-shirt and trackies and then Wright’s play starts to resemble Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, albeit a very queer one, but still retaining its core theme of retribution.
In the main, Very Special Guest Star works, but some of the early expositional conversations are a little clunky and Quasim’s more poetic mini-monologues seem out of place. At times, the acting is a little large, especially for such an intimate space, but the 75 minutes speed by, and the three actors never miss a beat. As Phil, Edd Muruako feels wonderfully real, and he’s warm, and eager to please everyone. Fatherhood suits him, but there’s something soothingly maternal about him too.
Michael misses his youth and the irresponsibility that went with it, and is therefore more determined than his partner to bed Quasim. Alan Turkington gives Michael a sense of entitlement and he’s unaware of his own faults. Later we find out that Michael remembers the past very differently from how Phil recalls it. As Quasim, Jonny Khan is a natural and his cheeky MLE (Multicultural London English) accent is sweet and affecting. He effortlessly plays both victim and assailant and is the perfect update of Orton’s Mr Sloane.
Rikki Beadle-Blair directs the evening with pace, but there are also some lovely calm moments too where little happens and characters are left in the room alone to peer behind curtains or reposition the cushions on the sofa. These pauses ensure that the farce is never too relentless.
Runs until 12 December 2021