Sunday, 15 March 2015

Theatre review: Buyer & Cellar

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The Menier isn't inviting the critics in until Thursday; Stephen Brackett's production has previously played in the US.

In a rather awkward little prologue, Jonathan Tolins' Buyer & Cellar assures us that, should any notoriously litigious superstars be listening, the story is a complete fabrication. But it's inspired by a bizarre truth found in a coffee-table book Barbra Streisand published in 2010, effectively an ode to her own good taste in home furnishings. Among the many photos and informative paragraphs, is the fact that she's bought so much stuff over the years that she built a fake mall in her basement to store it. Tolins imagines it might be a lonely place to wander through on her own, and so comes up with Alex (Michael Urie.) Having been fired from Disneyland for threatening a child with a churro, the out-of-work actor is in need of a new job, and his experience of working in a demented kingdom of make-believe makes him ideal for what Streisand's housekeeper has in mind.

She hires Alex to man the stores on the off-chance that the boss might want to go down there, and pretend to buy something she already owns.

It's a weird and very boring job but of course after a few days Barbra does turn up when Alex is looking after the doll shop, and after a lengthy test of how well he can bullshit his way through a pretend sale, the two appear to become friends. Despite never having been a huge fan before Alex is swept away by the star's presence, but back at home his boyfriend, a big fan and therefore clued up on her history, thinks Alex is just another thing Barbra has bought and collected in her basement.

Urie is likeable and energetic (and really surprisingly hot in the flesh) although I could have done without his tendency to pause and try and milk a gag he thinks should have got a bigger laugh. He's good enough though to steer Buyer & Cellar's gentle comedy, as it gets stretched a lot longer than the funny premise can really support. Tolins' conclusions about material possessions not buying happiness are on the trite side, but I liked his canny dig at the way incredibly powerful celebrities try to justify their more egregious behaviour by referencing a difficult childhood. Altogether it's a rather low-key show but entertaining enough.

Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins is booking until the 2nd of May at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.

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