Stop! The Play – Review

Tosin Cole, Ben Starr & Adam Riches in Stop! The Play.  Photos Matt Humphrey.
Tosin Cole, Ben Starr & Adam Riches in Stop! The Play. Photos Matt Humphrey.

We all been there. Actors who are contracted to appear in stinkers, critics forced to endure god-awful productions to the bitter end and audiences who blindly bought tickets to calamitous plays.

But deliberately staging the worst play ever? And asking ctitics and the pubic to watch? That’s lunacy, right? Absolutely.

Stop! The Play opened at London’s Trafalgar Studios 2 tonight and it had its invited audience laughing so much that they needed a sit down to recover and a large glass of something alcoholic.

It’s a rare treat to watch a new play that delivers everything that you hoped – well, with the exception of actor Peter Bowles, who wasn’t on the billing after withdrawing himself at the eleventh hour.

Bowles seriously lost out. His place was taken by veteran theatre actor James Woolley who milked his role, as a theatre veteran long on thespian anecdotes but short on remembering his lines, and brought the house down.

James Woolley & Hatty Preston in stop the play

But Stop! The Play is very much an ensemble piece with every “car-acter” superbly funny. Award-winning comedian and actor Adam Riches is a riot as leading man, Hugh, who starts out being cast as an gifted but frustrated art teacher in The Dark Heart of Art and ends up, after several re-writes, a reluctant homosexual in the edgy, pseudo-psycho drama, Banksy Ain’t Gay.

Director John Schwab allegedly asked playwright David Spicer to write a comedy about a group of actors forced to appear in the worst play ever written.

What has emerged is a laugh-out-loud delight that loosely references Michael Frayn’s classic Noises Off but is far more madcap, giving us a warts-and-all romp through disastrous rehearsals and a catastrophe of an opening night.

Ben Starr is tremendous as desperate first time director Evelyn who spouts platitudes and bull**** in a bid to keep everyone on board.

His whole future (and his parents’ money) rests on the success of the show. He nurses fragile egos, motivates his increasingly frustrated cast to do whatever is asked of them (because it’s in the script) and frequently makes impossible demands of Chrissie, his assistant.

Hatty Preston’s Gemma naively begins rehearsals believing that she’s appearing in something that will be ground-breaking only to be appalled to discover, several re-writes down the line, that she must bare all and more.

The fictional playwright, who is never seen, is truly dire. His flowery stage directions are utter nonsense and no-one knows from one day to the next what the story’s about.

“There’s whole chunks of me gone!” proclaims a wounded Hugh who does a u-turn over leaving the production after hearing plans to replace him with an actor who is the voice of the Meerkats.

Meanwhile the aged Walter sits, does his Times crossword and regales his fellow actors with stories while expectantly hoping for the axe.

“I got my kit off in Leatherhead in 1973,” he admits. “It was Equus. I was only the usher at the time but it got me noticed!”

With less than four days to go a new character is introduced, a black rapper/ gangster/ art collector (enter Tosin Cole) who, later, must play white and gay.

After the interval the first night audience is in (us) and the cast gamely struggle on, pretty much making it up as they go along.

Hardened theatre critics, visiting actors, VIPs, producers and the like, were crying with laughter. Banksy Ain’t Gay may be a disaster but Stop! The Play is a deliriously funny triumph.

Running at Trafalgar 2 until June 27.

Star Rating
  • Stop! The Play
5

Summary

A group of actors find themselves in the worst play ever written. A disaster? No, David Spicer’s hysterical comedy, Stop! The Play, at the Trafalgar Studios until June 27, is an absolute riot. Not to be missed.

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