WHEN it was announced that Scrubs star Zach Braff was coming to the UK with his self-penned play All New People, it is fair to say there was an above-moderate level of excitement, even among the “Facebook generation” whose natural home is the trendy bar, not the theatre.
Braff is the main draw for the audience — as evidenced by a couple of slightly ill-timed whoops when he first appears on stage, which seems an odd reaction to a man with a noose round his neck. He plays Charlie, a seemingly sweet man who decides to kill himself on his 35th birthday for reasons which become clear later in the play, but which initially seem like nothing more than a modern ennui. His performance is more grown-up than those he has become known for on television, more touching than funny — he leaves the jokes to his three co-stars.
Eve Myles gets all the best lines as Emma the super-posh English illegal immigrant who stumbles upon Charlie’s suicide attempt, trying to save the hanging man while simultaneously shrieking “not the hair!” as he wraps his legs round her shoulders. Love is like “trying to build a house of cards on a squirrel’s back”, and the world looks better with a lungful of nitrous oxide. Paul Hilton’s Myron is weirdly likeable, an edgy philosopher of a fireman/drug dealer whose libidinous exterior seems to conceal a broken heart — he also delivers a snippet of Shakespeare that leaves the whole auditorium spellbound.
Susannah Fielding’s Kim might appear as a shallow representation of women, but as a woman watching it was a joy to watch her send up the sex lives of her clients, particularly with an unprintable line about politicians. She may not appear to be the brightest button in the box, but even in this blonde-haired, casually-bulimic caricature there are moments of wisdom. “Maybe it’s like when you get bone-tired,” she says at one point. “Maybe you’re bone lonely.” And the “music career” which she is supporting with her immoral earnings might seem like one big cliche — until we hear the unbearably sweet little tune she’s penned which, I’ll happily admit, brought tears to my eyes.
There are lots — and I do mean lots — of laughs crammed into a relatively short space of time, often at things we generally think shouldn’t be laughed at, but probably should. Of course, a lot of theatre critics probably won’t like All New People. It’s too easily funny, too sexy, not painful enough on the whole, has no big moral message to give. The use of a big-screen to project pre-recorded back story for the characters is innovative, but distracting and a bit lumpy, although it works well when Charlie’s own dark secret comes tumbling out. But the “house full” sign was hanging outside the Opera House, and at a time when theatre audiences are generally falling, to have a whole new group of people excited about seeing actors on stage cannot possibly be a bad thing.