“We’re all in pain, Charlie”
Zach Braff’s debut play All New People premiered off-Broadway last year with the new playwright remaining behind the scenes. But for its arrival into the West End, after a short UK tour, the Scrubs star has taken up the lead role as the suicidal Charlie. He’s shut himself away in a New Jersey beach house in the depth of winter to do the deed, but his solitude is interrupted by the arrival of three misfits who set about infuriating him yet ultimately helping to shift his outlook in the subtlest of ways.
Yet the play is anything but subtle. The cutaways to flashbacks to explain why each of the characters has ended up in this particular circumstance offer amusing cameos from a range of stars, but rob scenes of their dramatic impetus; the destruction of a bead-filled piece of African art sets up some painfully contrived pratfalls; the continued recourse to (sometimes highly amusing) one-liners; the clunky shoehorning in of the show’s title in a moment of cod-philosophy in the final moments. The clumsy construction of the play’s components is frequently laid bare and the lack of finesse in the writing all too apparent.
Braff uses broad comedy strokes which speak of his long grounding in sitcom, particularly in his female characterisations. English realtor Emma is meant to be hiring out the house but dippy beyond belief, decides to make rescuing Charlie her mission whilst not hunting for drugs and Kim is a seemingly dim $15,000-a-night escort apparently with hidden depths and talents, but both end up mainly serving the purpose of being the object of much of the humour. Emma is pitched as the type of British stereotype often seen in US sitcoms but weirdly, Eve Myles’ performance very much plays up to this in an uncomfortable amalgam of Bridget Jones and the Ab Fab ladies. Susannah Fielding fares better as Kim, who has some witty lines.
By far the best, and funniest character is Paul Hilton’s Myron, a former teacher turned fireman whose sardonic wit is the highlight of the show. But even he can’t hide the hollowness of All New People. As Charlie rails against these intruders, there’s nothing to help us empathise with him so that when the play lurches into serious mode in order to ‘mean’ something, the lead protagonist has remained somewhat unlikeable and more significantly, is scarcely credible. There are undoubtedly some good lines in here and a fair few laughs to be had but as a piece of West End theatre, All New People is somewhat lacking.