REVIEW: Immoral dilemma outrageously dissected on the Chichester stage

Greg Wise and Susan Wokoma in Never Have I Ever. Pic by Helen MurrayGreg Wise and Susan Wokoma in Never Have I Ever. Pic by Helen Murray
Greg Wise and Susan Wokoma in Never Have I Ever. Pic by Helen Murray
Never Have I Ever, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, until September 30.

Thirty years on we are back in Indecent Proposal territory in Deborah Frances-White’s rather self-indulgently outrageous new comedy Never Have I Ever, beautifully played by Alex Roach, Amit Shah, Greg Wise and Susan Wokoma on a night which is perhaps slightly too keen to shock.

Arguably, if anything let them all down on press night it was the audience, packed with people – presumably close to the production – determined to show how utterly hilarious they found the whole thing. Lines which were merely amusing had them squealing and squawking. Which was a shame – an irritating distraction from a play which was not just funny (though not quite that funny) but also challenging and provocative.

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The set is terrific as you walk in, a boutique restaurant, complete with flaring flames and under-foot bottles, hugely detailed and just right for all the dramas soon to be served up.

Alex Roach plays Jacq, and with partner Kas (Amit Shah), she has summoned their old university mates Tobin (Greg Wise) and Adaego (Susan Wokoma) to tell them that the restaurant has gone bust – a fact of particular concern to Tobin (Greg Wise) as he has invested in it heavily. It’s sure to be a tricky conversation, but perhaps surprisingly Tobin seems to take it on the chin. And then the booze starts to flow.

In vino veritas is the old saying, and in this case the veritas is pretty shocking and instantly sobering. It emerges that something happened between the other three which leaves Tobin fuming and demanding his pound of flesh. The thing is he has apparently got more than enough money to pay for it.

Robert Redford, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson were oh so much more civilised all those years ago. Here all hell breaks loose in an orgy of resentment and recrimination. It’s male versus female, it’s black versus white versus brown. There are plenty of times when the dialogue just doesn’t ring particularly true. It’s difficult to imagine anyone caring quite this much what is woke and what isn’t, and there’s plenty of tub-thumping as it all thunders down the female solidarity route.

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But there’s no doubting the full-on commitment from all concerned in this nightmarish evening of hysterics, temptation and power as the will-she-won’t-she battle rages. It’s also wealth versus poverty, ghastly entitlement versus need.

Greg Wise is excellent as the villain of the piece, but maybe the performance of the night comes from Amit Shah as Kas, the one vaguely sane member of the party – certainly the character who delivers the best moment when he too reveals he has got an appalling secret.

There are times when press night really doesn’t seem like the best night to see a show; a neutral audience is always the best environment. Never Have I Ever certainly didn’t get that tonight. And it did it no favours. Which is a big pity. This is certainly a play which leaves you plenty to think about – and is very nicely directed by Emma Butler, who gives it pace and plenty of fire.