Everyone has their poison. That’s the slightly banal comment at the heart of Peter Quilter’s slightly banal new comedy Saving Jason. And there’s really very little else to say about it. It tries to be a farcical Ayckbourn, but it has neither the pithy wit nor the instant familiarity to pull it off.
It’s the 1990s. Jason (Jacques Miche) is a shell-suited 17 year-old who pops pills, raves, and bangs on cringeworthily about his love of chemically created humanity. To save him from this unthinkable fate, his family have decided to prematurely stage his own funeral, hoping to shock him into understanding his own mortality and into being a bit less of a total shit in general.
But – oh no! – it all goes wrong. The buffet isn’t any good, the music is crap, the fake urn is too big, and the crazy lady next door (Paddy Navin) keeps popping round to offer everyone muffins. Dad (William Oxborrow) won’t come out of the cupboard, Mum (Tor Clark) can’t keep her hands off the brandy bottle, and irritating Auntie Angela (Julie Armstrong) always has to be the centre of attention. What is this family like?!
Quilter’s script is full of jokes. It’s a pity that so few of them are funny. It’s difficult to put a finger on why exactly, but it has something to do with their predictability and their blandness – they’re all the kind of joke your grandad would make over a game of monopoly, and they’re all crowbarred in with a dazzling lack of guile. Dropping the c-bomb is about as risquÃ© as Saving Jason gets, and that’s not really very risquÃ© at all.
Steven Dexter’s production has more success with the physical comedy. A furious food fight just before the interval (which is entirely unnecessary – the play would be far stronger run straight through with twenty minutes lopped off) is staged enthusiastically, and the tippling, tottering Armstrong draws a few chuckles with her tipsy exuberance. But infrequent titters over uninspired slapstick still isn’t a lot to shout about.
There’s little to criticise about Dexter’s cast, but little to write home about either. All struggle with Quilter’s lifeless dialogue, but Clark and Oxborrow struggle manfully towards dry naturalism as an identikit pair of Daily Mail reading, suburban slippered parents, and Cory Peterson wrings out as many laughs as he can as Angela’s whipped American husband. Miche suffers most – despite his best efforts to find anything resembling authentic adolescence in Quilter’s script, his Jason is perpetually defeated by lines as teenager-ish as a walk-in bath.
By the end, it’s difficult to care at all. Whereas an Ayckbourn comedy generally arrives at some piercingly profound – and searingly funny – truth about Britain and the British, Saving Jason just meanders to a contrived platitude about everyone having their flaws and the need for cohesive family life to overcome them. Although brand new, this is a play stuck in the twentieth century. God knows I wish it had stayed there.
Saving Jason is on until 3rd December 2016 at the Park Theatre. Click here for more details.