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A CurtainUp London London Review
Public Property

You eat a few rats in the jungle, people will forgive you anything! — Larry de Vries
Public Property
Nigel Harman as Larry De Vries, Robert Daws as Geoffrey Hammond and Steven Webb as Jamie Sullivan
(Photo: Graham Michael)
Showing at the intimate venue Trafalgar Studio 2 is Sam Peter Jackson's witty exposé of public relations in a climate of celebrity culture and voracious press jumping on the whiff of a sex scandal.

Geoffrey Hammond (Robert Daws) is a television news anchor man, a household face of dependability as he delivers world events to the nation. Married and bi-sexual, he has just published a book about his career, which of course leaves out all the detail as to his closet homosexuality. Hammond is meeting his slickly, streetwise publicist Larry de Vries (Nigel Harman) to hear what the reviewers think of his book. This will be the highpoint of Hammond's career, despite the poor reception of his book and just as he thinks it cannot get any worse. A few hours later he will meet a teenage boy Jamie (Steven Webb) in a car park and give him a lift in his car. Hammond and Jamie will be caught having sexual relations in the front seat by press with cameras and a major news story breaks. Money will change hands between the man and the 17 year old boy making this an illegal act.

That is for openers! Hammond flees to the home of his publicist in the middle of the night while he tries to work out what to do next and shortly they are joined by Jamie. That is the starting point for this play of devious motives, dubious intentions and terrific twists. We are told that De Vries' price to extricate Hammond from the media feeding frenzy is for him to sign up for a show bizarrely called Celebrity Dental Practice.

The jokes are fast, furious and acerbic and Hanna Berrigan's direction allows Nigel Harman the full range of snake like behaviour as the publicist who is both glitteringly attractive yet murky in his dealings. Robert Daws' Hammond is rather hapless in his lack of foresight as he gets embroiled in a headline stealing scandal which will upset his wife, children and his male lover (not Jamie). Harman as De Vries is smooth and natural with perfect timing and an array of fascinating expression and quizzical body language but we never doubt that he has only his self interest at heart; that is if he has a heart.

We are told that De Vries himself hit the headlines recently when he was sacked as a judge from another lacklustre reality programme, television's Make Me An It Girl. Steven Webb's wide eyed teenager appears both innocent and corrupt as he sets out to achieve his own fifteen minutes of fame. In the absence of a piece of paper, Jamie asks Geoffrey to sign his arm and make it out to his sister.

The bare brick walls of the set double well as the underground car park, posh restaurant and De Vries' designer apartment. In between scenes there is electronic Bach, like a Blackberry ring tone. The productions uses authentic looking filmed footage of a television breakfast news programme discussing the breaking scandal to bring the immediacy of the extent of the crisis home to Hammond. We gasp with each shocking revelation. Stephen Fry and Natasha Little make guest appearances on the video news stream. The fast paced one liners seem like a televised comedy programme but of course the content is too risqué for that mass media.

Sam Peter Jackson has laid bare celebrity and sleaze obsessed journalism, and the public's own connivance. I loved the brilliant opening scene in the restaurant where De Vries is trying to finish their meal before giving Hammond the verdict on his book. Hammond tries to winkle out the information and becomes more and more persistent at each vague reply, furiously digging for more information. This cannot end well! I laughed but somehow I felt that as theatre this comedy drama was veering towards the shallowness of the current wave of reality television.

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Public Property
Written by Sam Peter Jackson
Directed by Hanna Berrigan

Starring: Nigel Harman, Robert Daws, Steven Webb
Design: Helen Goddard
Lighting: Emma Chapman
Sound: Steve Mayo
Running time: One hour 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6632
Booking to 5th December 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 16th November 2009 performance at the Trafalgar Studio Two, Whitehall, London SW1(Tube: Charing Cross)

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