The set-up is pure Fawlty Towers. On Christmas Eve, two rookie police officers, Blunt (Martin McCormick) and Gobbel (Michael Dylan), procrastinate on the doorstep of an elderly couple, deciding who will take the unhappy task of telling them their daughter has died in a car accident. Unwilling to upset the frail parents, the hapless officers’ innocent white lies snowball into an increasingly farcical tangle of mania and misunderstandings: mistaken identity, dead puppies, stripping vicars… You name a comedy cliché and it’s in here . Which is not a bad thing – The Lying Kind is ideal for the Tron’s summer slot – a reliable fixture in Glasgow’s otherwise drizzly and changeable summertime calendar.
Tonally, the play owes more to the unapologetic sauce of 2015’s Can’t Forget about You than the bruising anarchy of last year’s Lonesome West. As Blunt and Gobbel, McCormick and Dylan have a blast hamming up the bumbling officers’ situation. Dylan in particular continues to prove himself a brilliantly versatile comedic actor with an excellent line in Graham Lineham-esque absurdity; the opposite of his straight-man turn in Lonesome West.
Unfortunately, the supporting performances are less attuned. A violently Scottish Gayle Telfer Stevens as Gronya milks her neddish paedo-hunter caricature for all she’s worth, but never looks comfortable in her beanie hat and transfer tattoos. As the elderly couple, Peter Kelly is a gently disarming Balthazar, but Anne Lacey sucks the life out of the audience every time she appears, shooting for Catherine Tate and ending up somewhere near Bo Selecta. The exception is Gavin Jon Wright, whose expressive physicality and wide-eyed little boy looks set him up perfectly for all kinds of unexpected comedic denouements.
Advertised as a ‘pitch-black’ comedy, it’s a shame Andy Arnold’s direction lacks the snappiness to allow the satirical elements of Neilson’s script their full clout. Neilson still carries a rep as one of Britain’s most In Yer Face theatre makers— but the result here is a play that is at its best when it goes full slapstick, the audience reduced to audible gasps and hoots of laughter as the situational punchlines begin to find their mark. It’s fun. It’s frantic. But it feels simplified and safe. Neilson’s satirical comment is beaten into submission like a blameless Chihuahua into a Policeman’s cap.
With the Citizen’s Theatre over the road pulling out old-school farces (Hay Fever, The Rivals) like hankies from a magician’s top hat these last few seasons, it’d be refreshing to see The Tron’s commitment to innovative, boundary-pushing theatre extending to it’s crowd-pleasing summer comedy. With the Tron’s panto roundly trouncing every other offering from the city year on year, the theatre clearly has no problem sourcing razor-sharp Scottish comedy writers – it just needs the boldness to let them loose on something new.
The Lying Kind is on until 22 July 2017 at the Tron Theatre. Click here for more details.