Following success in New York & Los Angeles, Neil Koenigsberg’s Off The Kings Road has transferred to London for a limited run.
Recently bereaved Matt is on a trip to London (his favourite place) and has decided to stay somewhere a bit out of the way, for a change; he has big plans to take in the culture, but gets distracted along the way. Also staying in the hotel (as a “resident guest” – does that even happen anymore?) is Ellen – a widow & mad cat lady, who starts pursuing Matt almost from the moment he arrives, aided & abetted by hotel concierge Freddie. Matt remains in regular contact with his therapist in America, and also meets Russian prostitute Sheena. So far, so cliché.
It doesn’t really get better from there – nor does anything seem to happen. And not in a Pinteresque fashion, where the human psyche is explored in the most mundane, everyday context. Rather in a 90-minute, occasional chuckle, checking the time sort of way. The script feels tired, rather than fresh & original – the laughs mainly come from the acting rather than the text. We are promised a man going on a “voyage of self-discovery”, instead we see a widower taking Viagra & getting emotionally attached to a hooker.
The set certainly does remind you of a hotel room; it has been well designed by Claire Lyth. However, a lot more thought needs to go into all of the scene transitions, which are clunky to the extreme. More often than not they take far too long, and the lighting is such that the audience can see it all happening. There aren’t even any interesting musical interludes at these points – instead we hear either the sound of a car or the chimes of Big Ben (presumably, even though the Kings Road is nowhere near Parliament Square). It slows any momentum that the play attempts to build, and adds to the clock-watching moments.
The inclusion of an e-performance from Jeff Bridges has all the hallmarks of a huge gimmick, but actually these scenes end up being the best moments of the show. The concept of Bridges as Matt’s therapist Skyping him via the hotel room TV is a sound one, and provides the majority of the comedic moments. From him appearing on the screen sideways because he’s sleeping on the sofa, to his t-shirt with ‘Don’t try to harsh my mellow man’ written on it, Bridges’ turn is an unexpected highlight.
Diana Dimitrovici does well with what she’s given as Sheena, mastering her sullen, business-like nature. Freddie (Luke Pitman) is quite camp & a bit of a hygiene freak – it’s bordering on a bit of a stereotype which soon gets tiresome. Pitman is good at getting the audience laughing, though it’s more hearty chuckles than belly laughs. There’s only so much the actors can do.
Cherie Lunghi plays the crazy cat lady (Ellen Mellman) and is brilliantly barmy. Unsurprisingly, we never see her beloved Christina, however from her performance it’s no great stretch of the imagination to think of her sat in her room having in-depth conversation with a cat.
In the lead role of Matt Browne is American actor (& friend of the writer), Michael Brandon. He is solid, and does well in the therapist scenes in particular – they must be quite technical sections, having to keep on top of the timings, so it could be all too easy to miss out on the laughs or underplay the emotions. Brandon & Bridges create a bizarre but entertaining double act, injecting some much-needed fun at times.
My verdict? Not offensive, but definitely not groundbreaking either – a dull affair and a long 90 minutes.
Off The Kings Road runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until 25 June 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.