Friday, 2 June 2017
by Chris England
Watch The Birdie
There are plays with plenty of talent on board which give tantalising glimpses of taking an original route. Except there's a chickening out or a failure to recognize the potential of the material and the plays fall back on reheated plot points and gags.
Such a play, in our opinion, is Twitstorm. In fact Twitstorm is two plays wound awkwardly together.
One is an obvious TV-show-host-gets-embroiled-in-a-mistweeting-scandal. The other is what happens when the sponsor-an-African-child monthly direct debit is transformed into a living, breathing strapping lad who turns up unexpectedly on the doorstep. If you were switching channels to see what was on, which one would you choose?
Guy Manton (Jason Merrells) is the host of a TV panel show with a large following and the almost sure possibility of the format being exported to the US. His agent Rupert (Chris England, also Twitstorm's playwright) is handling the business side and it looks like the Stateside show will keep Guy as host but jettison other long-term colleagues.
Guy's success is bolstered by wife Bex (Claire Goose) who is a mildly successful chicklit authoress and in demand as the subject of women's interest magazine features. Even so, they suffer from the same first world problems as many couples, trying desperately to get off stage son Olly into the school of their choice.
Like many celebrities, Guy has someone else to manage his twitter account, long-term friend and show scriptwriter Neil (Justin Edwards) who does it all from his laptop which he carries around. It therefore ends up in Guy and Bex's home - where Ike (Tom Moutchi) has previously arrived unexpectedly from the African state of Benin - on the day of an end-of-series barbecue thrown for the show's staff.
We did laugh intermittently but there was little to surprise us in what was, in the end, an overwrought script. Frankly the celebrity who finds himself in the midst of the eponymous Twitstorm, partly because he doesn't seem to want to understand the new-fangled social media, would be, at the very least, very last century if Twitter had been invented then.
But shaming can come equally as an audio or video recording. Twitter is magnified publication. Yes, the Twitter beast has to be fed, just as once did the mass readership tabloid beast - but the material has to be there in the first place.
The most precarious and excruciating Twitter shaming has often been corporate man or woman with a personal account and unintentional 140 character or less ambiguity. Twitter also often gets exercised by events that start on that cutting edge part of modern broadcast technology, the radio.
The African child story did pique our interest. However, in trying to have a twist that the African is not as unknowing as he seems, Twitstorm unfortunately turns an out-of-date, if it were ever in-date, idiot savant story into what many would consider an equally, if not more, offensive belligerent stereotype.
There is a fine cast, given pacey direction by Jonathan Lewis, for the laboured plot, in spite of an attempt to bring in couched political and historical points of reference.
But why have such references if, for example, most of the audience is unlikely to have an in-depth knowledge of the history of Benin and you need to drill a bit further on Google to discover any Ike Eisenhower connection to Ike? (Ike Eisenhower was the first American president to recognise the independence of Benin).
We were prepared to give Twitstorm leeway at the interval wondering if there would be an inspired second act but it seemed to rely on the old implicit "it was all a dream" or "he's been driven mad by the whole affair" to explain some unlikely plot twists and rants.
This felt like a play that may have started with the title. Then there seems to have been a lack of recognition of a possibly much stronger story in which Twitter either was unnecessary or a minor part and an attempt to combine the two ended up with some unintended consequences. Oh dear, a bit like an unintended mistweet and so it's a red/amber light.