Here is solid work from debut playwriting duo Phoebe Batteson-Brown and Eoin McKenna that lives up to the name of co-producing theatre company Metamorph. The piece is a political satire that becomes a heavy drama and shifts tone to great effect.
At first, Right Dishonorable Friend feels like sitcom territory. With a politician from the South parachuted into a Northern constituency, there are plenty of satisfying, if safe, jokes. The cast is confident, the delivery strong, and the audience happy.
Politician Perdita needs a campaigning issue and, since she loves “the gays”, decides to champion facilities for LGBTQ+ youth, an issue close to the heart of her communications manager Dan. It’s a little sad this seems an unlikely campaign for her to pick, but never mind. The story gets serious when she reneges on her pledge with tragic consequences.
The play itself seeks to campaign and its political content is clear (the production promotes the charity Stonewall Housing). The argument is presented powerfully – but might be handled better theatrically. Batteson-Brown and McKenna, who also perform, have written big roles for themselves that showcase their talents. But director Kayla Feldman, who does a good job keeping the action swift, might demand more nuance. Batteson-Brown’s comedy skills are unquestionable while McKenna brings sincerity to his role – but both are good enough performers to blur the lines between being funny and serious more.
The characters aren’t flat because we do see more than one dimension. But Dan changes from competent and quiet too quickly and it’s too obvious he’d make a better MP than his boss. You might even find him a little preachy? Perdita moves from a ditzy posh girl to showing a machiavellian side too late. Any sympathy for the character falls flat and while pitying her is a big a call, seeing more of the pressure on her could be interesting. Rachael Hilton, who plays three characters of very different ages, comes off very well; establishing each role quickly, getting great laughs and bringing sensitivity to the role of teenage Alex, Hilton is hugely impressive.
The potential for Right Dishonourable Friend is clear; it’s just a question of a little more polish. Improvements will not even be that hard: more colourful pasts are hinted at for both characters, I even suspect the material is already written, which would help enormously. And it would be good to see more of Alex, if only to aid Dan’s final speech. But it’s a brave move to end a piece with lots of comedy on a downbeat note – it makes the conviction behind the play stirring and the show certainly gets my vote.
Until 18 February 2023