I must admit, I came to this expecting a savage indictment of sex tourism in the Far East. But no, the title is purely metaphorical, and if there are a number of recognisable characters in it, at least none of them is Gary Glitter.
Our first thinly disguised portraits are of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, indulging in laddish banter on their radio show until, in the heat of the moment, they go too far and reveal that the Brand character Milton Rose has slept with children’s TV cookery show (are there such things?) presenter Becky Watson. Before long she’s being door stepped by the tabloids, who’ve nicknamed her Becky Bumlove (yes, Rose really did overshare) so she seeks reparation from Rose’s PR firm, led by Richard Powell and Max Stafford (not meant to be Max Clifford, surely?)
Enter stage left Jennifer Chapman, an American actress who hasn’t been in anything for a while and is beginning to worry people will forget her, and Gemma Stone, a Stacey Solomon-type reality show “star” whose lack of talent of any kind is starting to bore even the least discerning members of the public. Our final character is Caroline Briggs, a tabloid hack who clearly has a past with Powell and Stafford, each side taking out on the other the disgust they feel at themselves for their part in this danse macabre.
If you’re thinking it sounds as if writer Daniel Dingsdale is trying to tackle every aspect of celebrity-obsessed junk culture at once, you’d be right. The result can feel a little overloaded, especially once we get to sex tapes and the question of who uploaded them, and too often characters become mouthpieces for an argument Dingsdale wants to thrash out e.g. between free speech and the right to privacy. Director Adam Lenson wisely keeps things going at a terrific lick (perhaps a little too much so in the opening scene) but even so the play is long. The speed and articulacy invites comparison with Aaron Sorkin, though in fact the humour is quite sitcomesque, albeit with the occasional gem – I sincerely hope “sweating like Mel Gibson at a bar mitzvah” enters common usage.
On the plus side, the performances from the four women are uniformly excellent. Tamaryn Payne is a wonderfully gormless Gemma Stone, reduced to rapidly gaining and losing weight to keep the tabloids interested, and Jill Winternitz is superb as the actress who’s offended that Stone assumes they’re basically the same – after all, she wants to be famous for being good at something, not just for breathing. Rebecca Brewer is excellent as the world-weary journalist who couldn’t be less impressed with the boys club she’s confronted with, and Josie Dunn shows great ability in the little she’s given to do as the wronged woman whose plight kicks it all off. Unfortunately, among the men only Huw Parmenter as the “Edwardian skinny-jeaned jester” Milton Rose impresses.