by guest critic Meredith Jones Russell
How to Be a Londoner in an Hour is part of a “politically charged” season at new venue Centre17 in Walthamstow. “Politically charged” wouldn’t be the most obvious way to describe How to Be…, unless you count repeated references to Boris Johnson, who hasn’t actually been London mayor for two years.
This is just one of a whole litany of frankly hackneyed London tropes in the play. London is expensive! London transport doesn’t work! Londoners are unfriendly! They never buy a round! Because London is expensive! It’s not exactly cutting edge insight.
This is not to say How to be a Londoner doesn’t have its moments. The three cast members are wonderfully buoyant and enthusiastic, especially and probably inevitably Alex, who is Not From Around Here, and is on a mission to learn London life from a chirpy Cockney and her own future self, two years in to urban living and thoroughly jaded by life in the Big Smoke.
Lovely moments of humour are drawn from the low budget (it’s London, producing plays is expensive!), with a time machine represented by a manually reversed clock and a man in silver leaping about spraying atmospheric Febreze. An interactive audience quiz on the art of passive aggression is also nicely done, and the short sketches of Alex experiencing London life are mostly sweet and amusing.
There’s occasional unnecessary veering towards crassness though. Getting the audience to shout “cock” on demand is entertaining the first few times, and drawing one picture of said organ gets some sniggers and is relatively inoffensive. But drawing several all around a picture of Alex’s mouth feels like suddenly being dropped into the middle of a frat party, which doesn’t feel very London at all.
And that is the overwhelming problem with How to Be a Londoner, it doesn’t really capture London at all, whether you love it or hate it. It doesn’t offer any particular insight. Unlike the ever-changing capital, the play’s jokes are often repeated and generally dated.
If you don’t know the city and you’ve not heard any stand up comedy for the last ten years, spending an hour at How to Be a Londoner is a moderately entertaining way to spend your evening, but if to tire of London is to tire of life, unfortunately How to Be a Londoner in an Hour just feels a bit tired.
How to Be a Londoner in an Hour runs through 27 April.
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