EFR - Reviews of BENEFIT

BENEFIT

Mon 5th – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Flo Layer

at 09:49 on 11th Aug 2013

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For a show that promised to be a comically ‘hard-hitting’ piece of new political writing, I can only say that ‘Benefit’ unfortunately only delivered a soft pinch. Popular Entertainment Company’s writers Robin J. D. Popley and Joshua Galvin have the admittedly inspiring idea of exposing the demoralising Job Centre with comic cynicism, but despite brilliant intentions the actual performance just falls short of fulfilling these honourable aspirations.

The show is intent to reveal the rusty, dysfunctional machine that is the Job Centre for all of its soul-destroying charm and record the painful malfunction as three stereotyped clients make disastrous visits. In theory, it is a show which ticks all of the fundamental boxes - a hint of endearing romance, a character with a troubled past, an unexpected twist, all shaken up with a twist of comedy – but the script misses comic brilliance, although mostly well performed by a respectable cast.

Each character is certainly well thought-out, but each ultimately lacks an extra sparkling dimension that would bring this one act comedy alive. The simpleton security man Peter (Jonathon Youl) should, in theory, grate superbly against the self-important apathy of bored office worker Phyllis (excellently portrayed by Francesca Izzo), but unfortunately his jokes feel overly scripted and often fall flat, while the frequent slips into unexpected philosophising anecdotes, such as life as a “hedonistic” pick-n-mix bag, screamed of inconsistency. Similarly, the crude punch lines delivered by cockney trouble maker ‘Gaz’ (played with admirable enthusiasm by Adam Billitt) also dried up in the mostly quiet audience. There were, however, fleeting moments of genuinely witty writing and well-timed performance, such as Izzo’s humorously deadpan delivery of insulting crossword answers and Kevin Hynes as William Sterling’s brilliantly offhand misreading of Phyllis’s name badge as ‘phallus’. Also, it worth praising that the, unfortunately short-lived, fumbled love scene between bumbling manager David (Popley) and lovely work advisor Anna (Gemma Bell) was undeniably charming.

There are little glimpses of potential hiding in this show, but I left feeling frustrated that the actual experience didn’t live up to the endearing enthusiasm of the writers and actors, as made blatantly obvious in the more than comprehensive programme. They are clearly a company with high aspirations and I respectfully wish them all the best, but they just need to step up their game if they want to reach the top.

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Theodora Hawlin

at 10:53 on 11th Aug 2013

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‘Benefit’ is a product of Robin Popley’s self proclaimed ‘struggle’ with unemployment, and this conflict doesn’t seem to have been resolved through this creative process. Drawing upon his personal experience with the world of job centres, it’s ultimately a frustration with unemployment that fuels this piece. ‘Unemployed graduate’ appears as a term that might be deemed as a rather tautological predicament in our tight-laced times. The show is sold as a ‘one act comedy’: apt considering how incomplete the performance feels. I can certainly confirm its brevity, its status as a comedy, however, remains contestable. The audience response could by no means be described as ‘side-splitting’, despite promises from publicity.

Honestly, I’m unsure what Popley is hoping to convey with this show. The debate of Sophie verses Phyllis that is detailed in the program - ‘It’s the Job Centre’s responsibility to help everyone’ versus ’There’s too many on the dole already’ - doesn’t really go anywhere. Instead we’re doled out a series of class clichés, from the ‘lovable Cockney rogue’ (Adam Billitt) to William Sterling (Kevin Hynes) as the undercover official whose revealing comes as a limp nod to Gogol-esk corruption. The claims the writers make of wanting to expose ‘the slightly more silly aspects of the civil service’ seem barely broached at all; office politics are all very well but hardly enough to sustain a 50 minute act. The overt stereotype of Gaz, a lazy unemployed chav, in comparison to the smug middle-class pomp that Sophie Austin (SIana Taylor) presented as a ‘typical student’, was uncomfortable and cliché.

However, some acting remained strong. The ease of Billitt’s delivery as the urgent ‘Gaz’ and his confrontation with Pete (Jonathan Youl) is convincingly realistic. Kevin Hynes captures the aloof and austere economist, delivering some of the louder chuckles from the audience: ‘I just look old, banking does that to you’. Not a moment goes by when a performer is out of character, a commendable feat, but not always an enjoyable one. I do wonder how Pete manages to continually produce a gormless smile after every flat ended joke.

It’s clear that a lot of dedicated work has gone into this show (there’s even a specially created jingle) and yet nothing quite hits the spot. The script is painfully thought through, causing rigid conversation through tautly scripted lines that many of the actors struggle to perform with conviction; ironic as ‘Benefit’ was ‘born’ from conversation.

Popley promises in his blurb that Benefit will be ‘a show you will go home talking about for some time’. He’s correct, but you may not benefit that much from the conversation.

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