To get away with a second act opening number that constantly repeats the line “I am so shit,” writing and production need to have already exerted a pretty strong grip on an aud’s affections. Sadly, in the case of “The God of Soho,” a new play by Chris Hannan at Shakespeare’s Globe, that’s horribly far from the case.
Hannan, a wide-ranging playwright whose trenchant previous work includes the terrific “Shining Souls,” would seem to be a smart choice of writer but his examination of the worship of celebrity is a spectacular misfire.
The play switches between a heaven peopled by grumpy, arrogant gods and London (Essex and Soho, to be precise), the playground of D-list celebrity Natty (Emma Pierson), her valueless boyfriend Baz (Edward Hogg) and assorted hangers-on. Had the play bothered to come up with a dynamic plot, it would be worth recounting, but suffice it to say that for reasons never truly made clear, the Goddess of Love (Iris Roberts) is there finding out about humans and attempting to sort out her own love life with New God (William Mannering in the calmest, most focused performance of the night).
Elsewhere, characters merely appear to posture, display their ignorance, have sex, be unhappy and generally conform to everyone’s low expectations. The slightly stronger second half makes clear that Hannan is not sitting in judgment on his vapid characters, who are victims of a culture that venerates them.
Hannan’s writing has moments of bitter poetry and his plea for an understanding of the true worth of individuals is wholly sincere, but it’s undramatized. To make audiences care, his characters need either to be more engaging or placed within a plot that has some regard for audience connection or dramatic tension.
In Raz Shaw’s strenuous, paceless production, the actors tend to declaim rather than speak to one another. Furthermore, what little energy they create drains away in the portentous pauses between speeches.
On opening night, when the goddess of love suddenly dropped her clothes to stand naked on the stage, a woman in the audience involuntarily cried out “Oh my God!” That, sadly, was the only authentic moment in a vastly disappointing night.