Brighton Fringe 2013
Better Days is a new devised comedy by Brighton-based Mayem Productions. It is "the bittersweet story of a community centre on its last legs, with its employees in an hilarious plight to save it from destruction."
"Friendship, loneliness and community spirit" lie at the heart of this new work,a devised piece from Mayhem Productions
This is an offbeat comedy that achieves some funny unhinged moments and never flags in terms of energy.This is one of those plays that struck a chord and tickled the funny bones of a good proportion of this young audience. A few others looked on bemused in parts.
No set, plenty of word-thick delivery, we open at a poetry group.The interplay between the characters provides the opportunity for some whacky almost absurdist humour and the energy doesn’t flag as the actors actors deliver a script that sometimes brings out more caricature than character. There’s aclever contrast between the men, who all need their community centre to remain open in order not to create a significant hole in their lives.
The characters need fleshing out more and a play like this mustn’t feel as if the characters are simply a not very subtle mouthpiece for the writer’s ideas and take on life. There’s a lot of sitting around and delivering lines and, though often the dialogue is tight enough, the writer’s polemic often overshadows the dramatic narrative. When it gets physical it gets hilarious, sometimes touching, and, in places, anarchically brilliant. Almost punk comedy.
The setting is a community centre, the characters all have the feeling of being lost souls, seeking something more through their companionship. The councillor’s naturalistic style contrasts in a bit of a jarring way with the more caricature style of some of the other actors. A consistency needs to be found. Or that contrast needs to explored even further.
The piece is at its offbeat inventive best when it allows individual characters to establish themselves, though there’s little overt character development. That forces us to enjoy the evolving narrative rather than gain a richer and deeper sense of who these people are. These characters all need to go on more of a journey. Magic Arthur is a very funny characters redolent of the Goons but the one liners and madcap exchanges start to become more like a string of sight and verbal gags rather than a fully formed play. This is bordering on anarchic punkish comedy but it still hangs it hat on the hook of a story about a community centre threatened with closure. In its current version this play sits unsteadily between a story and a series of scenes that afford the opportunity of some crazy comedy. I want more from this energetic company and I want some of the devising to bed down into a clearer and better story. Or, if not, let it unhinge and go far more absurdist.
That said, there’s plenty to enjoy in the zany humour and you won’t get bored. There are genius moments of verbal slapstick.
But there’s more to be gained here if the narrative and the comedy can converge on a more skilfully crafted story. Lots of energy. Plenty of potential. More needed, and I think less might be more in terms of characterisation.
Better Days has many virtues and the cast and director have found a rare, playful and continuous energy that needs to set itself free from writing that’s too focused on comedy delivered through sketch-feel scenes and caricature. But it is definitely worth a look.