The Play with Speeches Review

Jack Studio Theatre – until 22 October 2022

Reviewed by Claire Roderick


James Woolf’s meta-comedy is a hoot. Director Penny (Gillian King) and writer Anthony (Matthew Parker) are setting up for auditions for their new play and find out that the space has been double booked, so the auditions take place in front of a paying audience. Katherine Reilly’s assured direction keeps the audience on its toes but never more than one step behind the evolving story as Woolf’s script leaves just enough breadcrumbs to foreshadow the ending.

Awkward explanations to the audience soon become increasingly showy, emotional and honest as the pair get used to the situation, and the moments when they forget that they are not alone are comedy gold. Anthony’s play The Play with Speeches is a series of speeches from various plays that he has put together to tell a tragic story. Penny is obviously not as enamoured with the play as Anthony, and between the audition pieces, their past relationship is laid bare, with some of the plays involved being from disastrous date nights. King and Parker bounce off each other gloriously, exchanging barbs, accusations and glares convincingly as the ultimate mis-matched exes. Their reactions as they watch the other flirt with various actors are wonderful. Gillian King’s Penny becomes more professional and assured as Anthony’s vision disintegrates, while Matthew Parker gradually gets deliciously OTT as Anthony realises he is losing control of his play – as well as his chocolate Hobnobs.

The twelve actors playing the actors who are auditioning all make the most of their brief roles, playing out the tragedy of Ralph Finch’s death. The style of each speech is different, and each actor has their own distinct personality. There are lots of laughs at their reactions to the speeches, and one “impromptu” audition is wonderfully bad. Luckily, the stage is small enough to be able to see the auditioning actor and the reactions of Anthony and Penny without turning your head, as these are some of the highlights of the show. This is a very funny and clever play, with exceptional comedic performances from Parker and King