Man of the Moment appears on the surface to be nothing more than a comfortable middle-of-the-road comedy but like much of Alan Ayckbourne’s work, the play has hidden depths, exploring our fascination, however misplaced, with celebrity and focuses on how media often manipulates the truth in order to create a more interesting story. Given the spate of famous-for-being-famous celebrities and recent newspaper phone hacking scandal both themes have, if anything, become more relevant since the play was first performed in 1988.
Man of the Moment centres on two men Vic Parks and Douglas Beechy who are reunited for a television show Their Paths Crossed. Seventeen years earlier Vic Park had attempted to rob a bank but he was foiled by Douglas who wrestled with him until the police arrived and arrested Vic. During the tussle Douglas’s future wife Nerrys was maimed when the gun shot her ear off. In the immediate aftermath Douglas was lauded in the press as a hero who had bravely tackled an armed robber. In the intervening period interest in Douglas has waned whilst Vic has managed to carve out a career for himself as a reformed criminal with several books on the market and a children’s television series called Ask Vic where he advises youngsters to not make the same mistakes as he did.
At the play’s opening sees Douglas arrive at Vic’s Spanish Villa. Overawed with the sight of such apparent luxury he repeatedly declares his surroundings to be ‘glorious.’ Moreover, Douglas doesn’t show the slightest sign that he envies the loud and crude Vic much to the dismay of pushy television Jill Rillington who refuses to believe that anyone could be so mild-mannered and generous given the two men’s past, such a reaction ‘just isn’t good television’.
As we the audience watch the ever so polite Douglas apologise and tiptoe his way around we cannot help to take his side especially when we see Vic verbally abuse his wife and children’s nanny. But we also must ask ourselves what is it that drives the public’s interest in a particular personality good manners or a thirst for danger and excitement, surely the latter?
Phil Norman’s Vic was a joy to watch bringing to mind real life cockney villains like Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs. Vic may be able to afford the pleasant surroundings of a life in the sun but he will also be uncouth bully from the East End of London.
Plaudits must also go to Angharhad Owen’s performance as the downtrodden Sharon. Throughout the play Vic continues to mock the overweight child minder quite unaware that she is in fact in love with him.
Likewise, Adam Jones puts in a hysterical performance as the bumbling Douglas Beechy in a performance slightly reminiscent of one of Derek Nimmo’s reserved clergymen. His facial expressions had the audience in fits of laughter especially when confronted by Vic’s crude behaviour. Jones’s performance is not purely comic however he also managed to portray the kind sensitivity that exists beneath Douglas’s awkward exterior. This was particularly present in Douglas’s late night conversation with Trudy as he finally opens up and tells of his ambiguous feelings towards Vic. He recognises the brutality of the bank robbery but also acknowledges that the fateful episode also brought he and his wife Nerrys together.
At the play’s shocking albeit farcical conclusion two of the cast members are drowned in the villa’s adjoining pool. Whilst it is obvious to the audience who has acted heroically and who has been a vicious bully, that particular viewpoint ‘just isn’t good television’ to quote Jill Rillington’s whose televised reconstruction sets us straight Vic Parks is hero, he may have been a bad egg at one time but not anymore, he is the man of the moment. The Little Theatre’s production of Ayckbourn’s Man of the Moment was a joy to watch offering laughs, pathos and a surprising amount of food for thought.
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