‘Shady Business’ was wild.
Robin Hawdon’s comedy of mistaken identities, mobster men and numerous love triangles ‘Shady Business’ is a blissfully chaotic play where everything that could go wrong does!
Presented by Act 1 Theatre in Strathpine, and directed by Trevor Howden, ‘Shady Business’ explores the risque world of nightclubs and the people who run them. From the relationships between the dancers and their bosses to the money that goes missing, the show explores the high risks involved in the London nightclub scene and the hilarity that can ensue
Written by English playwright Robin Hawdon, ‘Shady Business’ makes up one of the author’s many popular, award-winning comedy’s. The play is set in a lavish apartment in the seedy East-side of London. The story follows Mandy (Elizabeth Scales), a dancer at a nightclub owned by the intimidating Big Mack (Paul Whelan). After sleeping with her friend Tania’s new boyfriend, Larry, (Cerys Gandhi and Michael Alizzi), confusion and terror takeover as Mandy tries to hide her affair from her pal and current boyfriend/boss. Joining the chaos is one of Big Mack’s ‘runner boys’ Terry (Akiwa Cavanagh), who’s in trouble for not paying back loan shark Harry the Hammer(Ed Bone). Terry also stole from Big Mack and is dropped in the middle of a scandalous affair between Mandy, Tania and Larry, all while coming up with schemes of his own to relieve his debt.
‘Shady Business’ centres around a ‘man’s world’, beautiful women, excessive gambling and wild partying. The characters, particularly Mandy and Tania, are entwined in the business-oriented, yet often dangerous world which is controlled by Big Mack. Even the dialogue within the script exaggerates the high stakes, focusing on the luxurious lifestyle of Big Mack, leaving Mandy and Tania constantly complaining about having to put up with ‘men’.
The technical sound and lighting aspects of the production, led by Andrew Munslow and Philip Lawrence, were simple yet effective and allowed the audience to be totally engaged with the twisted relationships on stage. Lighting consisted of basic washes, with red and blue lights symbolising the presence of the police. Audio effects were likewise simple, featuring police sirens and door-knocking throughout. A frequent issue y was whenever the characters received a phone call a ringtone effect wasn’t on cue and the actors were left improvising that they had answered the phone, while it was still evidently ‘ringing’. Although it was covered well by their efforts (for example, actors exclaiming “Whoops, I didn’t push the answer button hard enough!”), the out of sync ringtone distracted from the tightness of the performance. However, other technical aspects allowed for effective comedic moments.
The lavish studio apartment setting, designed by Trevor Howden, perfectly captured the playful, feminine style of Mandy and her work as a nightclub dancer. Dressed with pink walls, art deco paintings and grand furniture, the colours and shapes were striking and a feast for the eyes. Costume design also fitted each character’s personality – from Big Mack’s plain, darkly coloured clothes, to Mandy’s elaborate kimono. Each costume was naturalistic and relevant. As for production aesthetics, ‘Shady Business’ was wonderfully brought to life for an audience, and choices complimented the story and characters within the text.
Trevor Howden’s direction effectively used the space of the theatre. The stage was rarely misused and actors always filled gaps, moving with purpose to keep things interesting. In particular, Act 1 was well-rehearsed and polished, and pace heightened and dropped effectively.
In Act 2, however, the direction struggled as actors were often left standing awkwardly in the same spot for many minutes. Moreso, comedic timing was askew, with scenes moving slowly and important comedic beats being missed. For instance, Big Mack’s beefy bodyguard Dozer (Simon Ah-Him) lacked comedic characterisation, which could have been explored through other nuances, rather than making the same funny facial expressions. Speeches, where characters would explain all the mistaken identities, moved at a gradual, summary-like pace, instead of the play’s intended quick farcical nature, which the comedy relies upon. Ultimately, the second act felt untidy and could have benefited from further rehearsal to sharpen the comedic timing.
That’s not to say that ‘Shady Business’ didn’t have a terrific cast, all of whom provided wit and energy to their performances. Standouts included Elizabeth Scales as Mandy, who delivered a genuine, believable portrayal of her frantic floozy character. Akiwa Cavanaugh was also a highlight as Terry, and his emotions comedically ranged from nervous to cheeky to suave and serious.
Playing the seedy Harry the Hammer was Ed Bone, who only emerged in Act 2, but gave a creepy, outrageous performance that made the audience shriek and groan in disgust. The biggest moment of the play was delivered by Michael Alizzi as Larry when he entered the stage dressed as a woman to avoid being recognised by Big Mack. Alizzi’s big wig, enormous fake boobs and change of voice caused a raucous of laughter.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Act 1 Theatre’s production of ‘Shady Business’. Even if at times it lacked some essential elements of comedy, the dedicated cast and the impressive set design were a delight to witness. While Hawden’s script is slightly dated, this is a charming tale of confusion and romance told from the perspective of mobsters and their lovers. Chuckles guaranteed!
‘Shady Business’ performs until Saturday, 7 March 2020 at Act 1 Theatre Strathpine. For tickets, visit their website.