EFR - Reviews of Morag and Keats

Morag and Keats

Wed 31st July – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

James Cetkovski

at 09:34 on 6th Aug 2013

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Morag (Alice Kirk) is a classic femme fatale for whom the adjective ‘sultry’ might have been invented. Keats (Ed Phillips) is basically Humphrey Bogart with a smaller head. The narrator (Rich Fulcher) describes their dynamic thus: ‘She was the kinda dame who could make a priest assault a nun. And like that priest, Keats was going to have to kick that habit. Hard.’ This should give you an idea of what the language in ‘Morag and Keats’ is like—irreverent, deliciously disrespectful, hilarious. Playwrights Will Farrell and Milo Gough have a tremendous ear for the rhythms and conventions of film noir dialogue and an unfailing knack for parody. Morag, seeing Keats approach, offers a gloved hand to be kissed; Keats, unsure what to do, deliberates for a moments and then opts to give her a fist bump.

Almost every aspect of this production is razor sharp. The set is uncluttered and expressive; costumes look like they might have been nicked from ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ The sinister lighting mimics the visual tones of black and white cinema and lets Keats and the chief mutter craggily out of dramatic penumbras created by fedora brims. American accents are generally bang-on, even if Jacob Fredrickson as the chief of police sounds like he has some sort of wet fabric in his mouth on some occasions (his performance is sterling in every other respect).

Considering the quality the dialogue achieves from the very beginning, I was prepared to allow Farell and Gough some leeway with plot, but they don’t need it—the mystery they weave is surprisingly compelling. Ditto some of the dialogue they create for the compulsory flashbacks—it’s meant to be parodic, but it’s good enough to be convincing in a more serious context. There’s ‘a web of lies’, says the chief, staring profoundly into the rafters, ‘that holds you together and contaminates your very core’. Not bad at all.

Slight lapses in momentum occur when the humour forgets to be nuanced—the above flashback, for example, flounders when the chief reveals that his present existential distress stems from his time performing as a drag queen for the army during the Second World War. It’s too much. The language is enough.

Misha Patel as the bumbling, servile Gill T. Pearson somehow manages to be endearing and contemptible at the same time. Phillips’s Keats is an achievement in deadpan; his seriousness is one of the funnier things I’ve come across this Fringe. And Kirk as Morag is utterly enchanting; Lauren Bacall couldn’t have played this part better. Kirk is a study in ruthless confidence—albeit a ruthless confidence that’s hilarious. It’s an exemplary performance among the collection of exemplary performances that is ‘Morag and Keats’, a satire that improbably retains the dark energy of the genre it parodies.

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Kate Wilkinson

at 10:09 on 6th Aug 2013

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A new piece of writing by Will Farrell and Milo Gough that already wears the stamp of a classic, ‘Morag and Keats’ is a comic play of extremely clever humour. The style is parody ‘play noir’ and reminded me of the film ‘Airplane’ in its deadpan tone. The play begins with the conventional crime scene investigation and a tangled murder mystery plot ensues. While it was often hard to follow, this wasn’t too much of a problem as the plot seemed merely there as a prop to the witty puns and laugh-out-loud set pieces.

Holding the narrative together was the alternately hammy and ironic narrator (voiced by Rich Fulcher). His continual and unprovoked abuse towards the pathetic Gill (Misha Patel) was hilarious. At times the caustic humour was especially dark and I felt almost ashamed to be laughing, but the writing stayed just on the right side of funny. The script was peppered with modern-day references including the drinking of whisky, sherry and WKD and lyrics from Dido’s ‘White Flag’.

The actors were all superbly cast and had good chemistry. Their delivery and timing were always on the mark. Ed Philips as the trilby-wearing detective Keats was cool and charismatic. Jacob Fredrickson as his Chief of Police blended flamboyant and straight-laced remarkably well, however could have improved the consistency of his accent. Alice Kirk as Morag was the ultimate femme fatale and had her eyes set at a constant smoulder. Her smooth voice and disdainful pursed lips completed the package. Misha Patel’s besmeared and pitiable face characterised his performance as Gill. I had an ambivalent reaction to this character. On the one hand, I felt sorry for him as the butt of so many jokes and on the other I revelled in his abuse.

The spare use of props and scenery suited the spirit of the show which could be summed up in one word: understated. I have found this a rare and precious quality in comedy at the Fringe. Music was also used efficiently. When Keats and the chief reminisced, their narration was accompanied by subtly comic sound effects.

At times I felt that scenes could have been shortened as unfunny moments stretched my patience. Ultimately however, this play blends refreshingly abrasive humour with all the old-school techniques of a top quality farce and is well worth a look.

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