There is nothing more painful than watching good actors struggle against a bad script. And it can be made even worse when one of the actors is the very playwright responsible.
The Gentlemen’s Tea-Drinking Society is comprised of over half a dozen good ideas rolled into one barely coherent production. It’s filled with interesting concepts, ludicrous characters and witty dialogue. It is an entertaining production, but it sorely lacks focus.
The title shares the name of a ‘secret’ society set up by seven university students two decades previously. They meet once every year to wear funny hats, intellectually joust and to mercilessly ridicule each other. Of the original seven, four remain, all of whom are bigger than life and typically archetypical: the leader, the paranoid, the insecure and the boisterous.
On a performance level, the production is quite electric. All four cast members, Howard Teal, David Ireland, Matthew Flynn and playwright Richard Dormer, have great chemistry with each other and manage to take command of the stage, individually and as an ensemble. Most of the successful moments centre on the interaction that these characters have with each other, peppered with excellent dialogue.
But excellent dialogue doesn’t necessarily equate to an excellent script. And here is where the play falls flat, because structurally it is all over the place. The script spews out themes faster than a machine gun and has no difficulty in throwing in a new scenario for the simple reason of getting a laugh. As a result, the production feels disjointed. It is so out of control that it’s impossible to either keep up or care. And with the discussion of ‘God particles’ and the end of the universe, perhaps the complete destruction of existence that one of the characters claims is fast approaching is the only way for this play to go.
It’s funny. It’s well produced. It contains many clever moments with cracking dialogue and solid performances. But with its staccato structure and ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ approach to themes and storylines, The Gentlemen’s Tea-Drinking Society wasn’t my cup of tea.
Playing at The Tron until March 14.
Originally published at Onstage Scotland