Thugs — Reviews

London

Time Out (Critic's Choice)

July 31, 1996

Patrick Marmion

The farcical film-noir world of Canadian playwright Robert William Sherwood is a gloves-off battle of the sexes that is as bolshy, sleazy and comically contemptuous as it is colourful and carnivalesque. In the men's corner are two low-life private detectives (Mike, the sexist slob, and Brick, a miserable alcoholic), one bimbo gigolo and a shady wimp who's convinced his wife is a lesbian. In the women's corner are Mike's vamp ex-wife and his ball-busting detective partner who he mistakenly employed for her looks. The men attend a male encounter group run by Thursday, the therapy air-head, but although mutual suspicion runs deep, no one counts on Gladys Tomato, the Ms Big of the male escort business, hijacking the resulting mêlée.

Although the lunatic plot gets confusing, Sherwood's writing thrives not on light and clarity, but on heat and mayhem: sobriety and feasibility are not high on his agenda. Instead, he writes an abrasively theatrical cross between 'Naked Gun' and 'Reservoir Dogs'. Burning on quick-fire attitudinising verbosity, the characters may be deranged but the alternative - group therapy - is judged to be that much worse. Men and women hate each other and the verdict is 'Good'.

The only problem with this often brilliant and entirely frenetic farce is it goes on too long. The plot eventually starts to drag; the acting gets a tad inconsistent and Brennan Street's light-footed direction gets a bit clumsy. Otherwise, the cast are energised by Sherwood's machine-gun dialogue and Robert Ashe, in particular, seems born to play Mike, the sweaty slob detective. An exuberantly entertaining boxing match, even if it does get a little scrappy and punch drunk towards the end.

What's On

July 31, 1996

Douglas McPherson

His name's Smithsonian — Mike Smithsonian. He's a private dick with a capital D. He's got a crumpled raincoat, a gun with no bullets and he's a connoisseur of junk food. He's so down at heel he can hardly see under the brim of his slouch hat, but he's got a string of one-liners that would strike fear into the heart of the foulest felon. And, lurking in the back room of a pub in Kennington, he has a case to crack.

These are the facts. Mike's speciality is investigating the extra-marital activities of married men. He has just recruited a new partner, Daphne Ontario. Daphne is perfect for the job: she has a pathological hatred of men, and spends most of her life planning and plotting to part them from their genitalia.

Enter Mike's ex-wife, one Doris Tomorrow. Doris hires Mike and Daphne to get the dirt on her toy boy, Dean Straight, whom she believes is seeing other women. But when Daphne photographs Dean meeting rich women at a rate of two a day for a week, even Mike Smithsonian is enough of a detective to realise that there is a lot more to the case than meets the eye…

Doris, it transpires, runs a male escort agency, while Dean is a gigolo working for another firm. Thus Mike and Daphne find themselves embroiled in a territory war between the feuding outfits. Soon they are crossing swords with another private eye, the equally dishevelled Brick Martini. Blackmail, kidnapping and gunplay are the order to the day. But then things start to get complicated. Mike and Brick turn out to be members of the same male therapy group, and Dean, the gigolo, falls in love with their therapist.

Thugs, by Robert William Sherwood, is the first play in a short Canadian season at the White Bear Theatre Club, and for the first half it is a cracking good piece of detective spoofery. The characters of Mike, Daphne and Brick are well written and played with panache by Robert Ashe, Lloyd Wylde and Garath Harris respectively.

Some of the other membeers of the large cast are less impressive to watch. But the action zips along, throwing up witty lines and situations at every turn. Even the few fluffed lines are good, with the principal players turning them into jokes and making lots of ice-breaking eye contact with the audience.

Sadly the plot runs out of steam in the second act, and as a result the whole thing stumbles to a rather disjointed non-conclusion. It's basically far too long, and if you leave at the interval you'll have seen the best bits. For the most part, however, Thugs is a fairly robust comic caper.