Dumb Show
by Joe Penhall

Presented by The New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
and Richard Jordan Productions
29 May 20 June 2009

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Cast List
Liz Liz May Brice
Steven Elliot
Richard Elis
Director Phillip Breen
Designer Max Jones
Lighting Tina MacHugh
Sound Design James Earls-Davis
Company Manager Struan Sewell
Deputy Stage Manager Katie Bevan
Assistant Stage Manager on the book Steve Hall
Assistant Stage Manager Robyn Hayes


The Guardian
Paul Allen

There are high expectations further up the Trent at Newcastle-under-Lyme. Phillip Breen, a 2008 Edinburgh Fringe winner with a hugely promising body of work at Glasgow Citizens and Clwyd Theatr Cymru, is directing Joe Penhall's Dumb Show at the New Vic. In Breen's view, the play is not just about celebrity and the media but also the nasty puritan streak he sees in the British collective persona. The play very funny and very dark has been seen in Melbourne and Florida but nowhere in Britain outside London. It opens on 2 June.


Selected Reviews


The Guardian
Alfred Hickling

Joe Penhall's play presents a classic sting scenario. Vapid television personality Barry entertains what he believes to be two private bankers in his hotel suite. They offer him huge sums of money for a corporate event; he offers them cocaine and makes a clumsy pass at the female of the pair, only to discover that her bra is not underwired so much as wired for sound.

Penhall's previous play, Blue/Orange, has become a repertory staple, yet Phillip Breen's production of Dumb Show is the first time this five-year old play has been presented outside London. 

Breen's production is finely acted...and Max Jones's design has a swishy feel. You can well believe in Steven Elliot's substance-fuelled ebullience as the hapless Barry. 


Staffordshire Sentinel
Tamzin Hindmarch

A freakishly pleasant 27C evening in Basford probably kept some away from the inside of the New Vic Theatre last night, yet those who did turn up were in for plenty of hot air too as Joe Penhall's dark comedy unfolded.

While not of the laugh-out-loud light relief variety, its amusing but vitriolic swipes at the bizarre and needy relationship between celebrities and the tabloids certainly offered plenty of food for thought.

As flies on the wall of a swish hotel suite, provided by the theatre's ever-inventive set-building team, the audience looked on in horror, guilt, and curiosity, as they witnessed an unstoppable celebrity car crash happening before their very eyes.

Steven Elliot was wholly believable as television's aging and jaded 'Mr Saturday Night' the tabloid fodder at the heart of this play whose career is on the brink of death.

Playing the no-longer funny celebrity Barry who thinks he's invincible with his nose dipped in the mini-bar or a bag of cocaine one minute, and the sensitive father and family man the next, he deftly switched between the two giving a performance which was both ridiculous and moving.

Also convincing in this challenging play were Liz May Brice and Richard Elis.

Circling their chosen victim like sharks in a children's boating pond on Mother's Day, they kept up a double act as a pair of ruthless tabloid hacks relentlessly.

Finally, praise should be given to Joe Penhall's script. Gut-wrenchingly uncomfortable and also funny, various twists meant that before the night was through even the audience's perceptions of what was fact and what was fiction had become blurred.

Perhaps this play is one Susan Boyle and MPs with recently-diagnosed nervous dispositions should avoid right now; for the rest of us, it serves as a cutting commentary on modern-day celebrity culture.

Article by Phillip Breen for the programme

A true story.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
In 2001 I was 22, living in my University town and directing students in a semi-professional comedy revue. Soon after I got the job the funding was pulled and we were contemplating cancelling the tour for the first time in over a century. At the 11th hour a leading international cigarette manufacturing company stepped in with 30,000 to ensure the tour went ahead. I was delighted. It meant we could embark on our ambitious project and it meant that the revue remained open to people from modest backgrounds, not just to people who could afford to participate. I had a drink to celebrate and a day off to lovingly nurse the hangover to follow.
At shortly after 7am on a stinking hot June morning my phone rang. Unknown numbers calling at that ungodly hour rarely bode well. It was Reuters. 
"Good Morning Mr. Breen" 
My dry tongue in my thick head returned the salutation. I have only a hazy recollection of the conversation that followed. 

Click here for the full article.


Steven Elliot as Barry, Liz May Brice as Liz. Photo: Andrew Billington

Steven Elliot as Barry and detail from Max Jones' under stage bathroom. Photo: Andrew Billington

Steven Elliot as Barry, Liz May Brice as Liz. Photo: Andrew Billington

Steve Elliot as Barry, Richard Elis as Greg and Liz May brice as Liz. Photo: Andrew Billington

Steven Elliot as Barry, Richard Elis as Greg and Liz May Brice as Liz. Photo: Andrew Billington

Steven Elliot as Barry, Richard Elis as Greg. Photo: Andrew Billington

Liz May Brice as Liz. Photo: Andrew Billington

Richard Elis as Greg. Photo: Andrew Billington

Steven Elliot as Barry. Photo: Andrew Billington

Steven Elliot as Barry Liz May Brice as Liz. Photo: Andrew Billington



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