Look for job applications at Britain's weekly Spectator mag to shoot up as a result patchy if occasionally uproarious comedy now concluding a sellout five-week run at north London's King's Head pub theater. A take-no-prisoners dissection of the journal's play will mean next to nothing to those uninitiated in London media circles.
Look for job applications at Britain’s weekly Spectator mag to shoot up as a result of “Who’s the Daddy?,” the patchy if occasionally uproarious comedy now concluding a sellout five-week run at north London’s King’s Head pub theater. A take-no-prisoners dissection of the journal’s so-called 2004 “summer of love” penned by two people who should know (Toby Young and Lloyd Evans are the mag’s theater critics), play will mean next to nothing to those uninitiated in London media circles even as it leaves others panting to join a workplace where all the staff seems to do is shag. And, no, we’re not talking carpets.
What’s astonishing is how high-powered the various bed-hoppers were, bonking their way in and out of the office of editor Boris Johnson (Tim Hudson), a hearty would-be politico whose dreams of Conservative party glory were scuppered by his penchant for stripping off.
The adulterers included the mag’s American publisher, Kimberly Quinn (“Dirty Blonde’s” Claudia Shear, whose wry facial expressions seem locked in Mae West mode). Quinn, in turn, set her sexual talons into no less a prey than the country’s bluntly spoken (and blind) then-home secretary David Blunkett (Paul Prescott), by whom she had a child.
Throw in columnist Petronella Wyatt (comedian Sara Crowe at her most tight-lipped, which is saying a lot), onetime BBC programmer and commentator Rod Liddle (Peter Hamilton Dyer, resembling a younger Rod Stewart), and Renaldo (Jot Davies), a randy gay Latino chef with serious visa issues, and you have a recipe for door-slamming farce of an inordinately funny sort, not least because — the fellatio-prone Chilean excepted — these libidinous participants actually exist.
What libel lawyers made of this script’s early drafts, one can only imagine. But the finished product had a notably posh matinee audience in stitches, a phenomenon that speaks as much to the British fondness for satire as it does to a hit-and-miss production from Tamara Harvey that survives some dead passages.
Could the play prosper in other climes? Doubtful. Young and Evans have announced their decision to quit while they’re ahead with the fringe production and forego a commercial transfer.
A wise move, since this is one show ideally matched to its venue: a rough-and-tumble affair that plays well in the intimate (to put it politely) confines of the King’s Head, a theater seemingly always on the verge of collapse.
What better environment, then, for a set from Christopher Woods whose imposing portrait of Margaret Thatcher regularly gives way to a double bed made to order for impromptu bonking? Scarcely has Liddle spoken the word “factotum” than the would-be bimbette secretary, Tiffany (Michelle Ryan), snaps back, “Watch your language” — though it’s giving little away to reveal that Tiffany isn’t nearly as clueless as she appears. (“Eastenders” star Ryan’s smart, smooth perf is one of the production’s delights.)
Young and Evans deftly juggle three separate couplings that tend to converge in Johnson’s office, a den of carnality in which the exigencies of magazine journalism would seem to matter less than clambering in and out of the cupboard adjoining that foldout bed. (Cue the expected “coming out of the closet” joke.) Even if you haven’t previously come across Johnson’s agreeably tousled, avuncular persona, Hudson makes an extremely winning occupant of the play’s defining role, a self-described “priapic kangaroo” who is heard to opine cheerfully, “If we don’t save the planet, we’ll have to move.”
Blunkett’s real-life career constitutes one of the more amazing sagas of recent British public life, and Prescott has a field day with jokes both tasteless (the home secretary’s blindness is a God-given gift when it comes to farce) and expertly aimed. Swigging champagne out of a half-pint jug, this play’s version of Blunkett is a Socialist firebrand who gets visibly turned on by talk of Sheffield steel. By the second act, he’s been transformed into a disguise-happy stalker driven entirely by sex.
How do British politicians, not to mention journalists, ever have time for anything else? On the evidence of “Who’s the Daddy,” they apparently don’t.