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Theatre Review: Good pod, Brian & Roger’s bad

The show began it's life as a podcast. But, it simply doesn't translate to the stage.

Simon Lipkin as Brian and Dan Skinner as Roger. Photo: Nobby Clark.

Brian & Roger
Menier Chocolate Factory,
London, until Dec 18

All that free time during the lockdowns has resulted in more scripts than ever being binned. Even the smallest theatres have been buried beneath sheets of A4 paper. Budding playwrights have come to regard it as an achievement merely to get a rejection letter from them.

Against this background, Brian & Roger startles me. I can’t for the life of me understand what anyone could have seen in such an irredeemably awful piece of writing. It isn’t just that Harry Peacock and Dan Skinner’s story is uninvolving. Theatrically, it’s a preposterous notion to have two individuals constantly communicating by answerphone messages: there are no reactions, no chemistry, just two people talking into the void. I wonder, too, if, in the real world, many people still leave long, rambling messages.

Brian and Roger meet at a support group for divorcees and become mates. Roger is there because he’s devastated by the end of his marriage. Brian, by contrast, has been told to tag along by his solicitor to try to reduce the amount of alimony he has to pay his ex-wife.

The show began life as a hit podcast. In this format, I can well understand why it might have raised wry smiles as listeners got on with the cooking. It simply does not work as theatre, where it’s expected to hold the undivided attention of an audience for quite some time, and also give the actors – Skinner plays Roger and Simon Lipkin is Brian – a worthy vehicle for their talents.

David Babani is a fine director and does what he can to try to inject some life into proceedings, but he is no miracle worker. This is a podcast that’s got ideas above its station, and a script that, quite frankly, the Menier should have spared us.

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