Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: 'Penthouse' at theSpace, 8th August 2017

Penthouse reviewed by David James

Rating: 1 Star

What in god's holy name is this shit? Penthouse is a true theatrical rarity: awful in every conceivable way. It's the kind of play that's watched under a furrowed brow by an audience less concerned with enjoying the plot, appreciating the writing or working out the meaning behind it, and more with trying to work out how something this objectively terrible has gotten a plum spot in the middle of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Penthouse follows sadsack trader Ewen (Ed Brody). He's a bona fide mathematical genius, but has managed to lose £1.9 billion in investor capital through a series of bad trades. Unwilling to face the music, he's sequestered himself in the titular penthouse with a load of booze (well, four bottles of spirits..) a big bag of coke, prescription drugs, and an escort (Catherine Lamb). His plan is to have a cataclysmically debauched blowout and then end it all. He's soon joined by coke dealer Drew (Ryan Hutton) and fellow city trader Danny (Dario Coates), none of whom suspect that this is to be Ewen's last hurrah.

It's not a bad set up and I figured at worst we'd get some kind of plot in which the escort and Ewen form a bond and realise that they have more in common than they thought. Throw in a smattering of political commentary about the failures of capitalism, show some rich twats behaving badly for a leftie audience to disapprove of and bing bang boom you've got yourself a play!

What Penthouse actually consists of is collection of characters so thinly written its an exaggeration to call them 'sketches', a script that doesn't even try to say anything, crap performances (which range from a stoned looking lead to supporting characters desperately hamming it up) and a narrative has a beginning, but no middle or end. Something has obviously gone seriously wrong during production and they're desperately trying to cover it up, but it's the theatrical equivalent of  delicately dabbing concealer on a oozing and bulbous zit. Nobody is fooled.

Perhaps behind the scenes problems also explain why the show just randomly... ends. Billed as an hour long, Penthouse actually concludes just over 30 minutes after it begins and pretty much in the middle of a scene. It's a deeply surreal moment, as if the remaining pages of the script were accidentally lost and no-one could be bothered to find them. When the lights went down I genuinely thought they were marking the transition to another act. It was only when the cast bowed (and proceeded to make a suspiciously swift exit) that I realised to my astonishment: this is the play. I even heard a bemused audience member ask their friend "Is that it?".

I've always thought 'the show must go on' is a noble sentiment. Anything and everything can go wrong during a production, but real pros grit their teeth and walk the boards even when they know they're in a stinker. But Penthouse is the exception to this rule - it really shouldn't go on. There comes a time when you've got to cut your losses and admit that you've fucked up. Ideally that would have been before you opened, because continuing to take people's money for a play as objectively bad as this (not to mention the flagrant false advertising regarding its length) is a plain and simple rip off.

Penthouse is at theSpace on Niddry Street, Edinburgh Aug 9-12, 14-26. 

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