The Crumple Zone, 4 and 5 Stars

The Crumple Zone
by Buddy Thomas

Directed by Robert McWhir
Technical Designer Richard Lambert
Produced by LAMBCO Productions

Production Photos: Paul Nicholas Dyke of PND Photography
Production Assistant: Angie Lawrence
Audition Assistant: Sarah Day
Programme Layout: Tom van de Bospoort
Website: Piotr Glabicki
Stage Management: Joseph Thomas and Helen Stirling

Terry: Samuel Tucker
Alex: Kit Loyd
Buck: Tim Jennings
Roger: Myles Rogerson
Matt: Jack Tompkins

“Samuel Tucker plays Terry, long-suffering and looking for love. Jack Armstrong is Buck, handsome and adorable. Tim Jennings plays Matt, the naive boy on tour enduring a long-distance love affair. Kit Loyd, playing Alex, wants more from his life. Myles Rogerson as Roger is a blue-collar man dangerously confident who completes this hot young cast”.

This is the play to see! This is how a sleepover should be.
Makes Big Brother look like Enid Blyton!

BOYZ, 5 Stars Review
How do you guarantee a Christmas hit?  Simple, take 5, very good looking and competent actors and put them in a production of Buddy Thomas’s The Crumple Zone directed with real flair and understanding of the material by Robert McWhir. The story is basically about 5 guys and how their lives inter weave and then how that is played out. The dialogue, especially the lines delivered by a very enigmatic Samuel Tucker as Terry come at you like a sub-machine gun going off. At times this is a play that becomes a playful farce but at the heart of this piece is a well executed character study tackling matters of unfaithfulness, loneliness, power struggles, trust and sex. The ‘smaltz ‘factor is important to this play as the power of love is examined in fine detail. As one character states ‘  My heart always beats faster when I know you are going to come into the room”  The structure of this play is superb and typically laced with pure zingers Acting kudos has to be equally shared with  Kit Loyd as Alex,, Jack Armstrong as Buck, Tim Jennings as Matt and lastly Myles Rogerson as Roger.

I liked this and would recommend it purely based on the fact that good acting and a good script well performed is a rarity. Pure passion and power, a very ‘sexy’ play.

Review by Stephen Vowles

QX

Fresh from rave reviews in an off-Broadway run this summer, Staten Island set The Crumple Zone could easily be set not far from its Clapham Ominbus and soon to be Pleasance Stagespace home. The American nuances do not hamper the resonance for British audiences of the exploration of gay male relationships: romantic, plutonic, fleeting and closeted.

The cast fulfil your expected tropes of gay men in theatre – while still making you smile throughout. There’s the hot one, the one that’s in a relationship, the one that’s in denial, the cuckold and the highly strung diva. Samuel Tucker plays Terry, a fun mix of Julian Clary and Liza Minelli, prone to bouts of hysteria and deliverer of corking one liners such as ‘Everyone I know is too cheap and hateful to die’. Jack Armstrong is Buck, your handsome guy chasing an unavailable man, in this case, Alex. Played by Kit Lloyd, this aspiring thespian is left behind by his long term partner Matt (Tim Jennings) and is left to face life playing Santa as he rolls from job to job in the Staten Mall as he pines for Matt, inevitably becoming embroiled with Buck. Finally, Roger, a blue-collar man who engages in a tryst with Terry, and one of the bigger shocks of the story.

So far, so normal! But actually, the characters’ dialogue and interaction are very believable. We all have friendship groups that can spiral out of control sometimes and this is exactly what happens here. Set in shared living room/pressure cooker of Terry and Alex, we are treated tears, tantrums, touching moments and twists. Similar in style to the likes of Yazmina Reza’s God of Carnage (watch the Roman Polanski film with Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet and you’ll know what I mean – camp!), the play deals exclusively with the exploration of relationships – often a tricky topic in the gay world. Where do the lines of friendship, love and the unrequited blur?

As an intriguing character study, I would highly recommend a festive visit to the shabby interiors of this Staten Island dive and challenge you not to laugh out loud as I and the rest of the audience did throughout the entire play.

Review by Mark Hamill

London Theatre1, 4 Stars Review

I must be getting on a bit. Sat amongst a cosmopolitan audience for The Crumple Zone, an American play old enough to have received a New Voices Play Award in 1998, certain punchlines had me roaring with laughter, but left people younger than me nonplussed at best. I couldn’t help noticing the old-style answering machine and somewhat refreshing lack of what our American friends would call ‘cells’ (mobile telephones). That Mariah Carey tune, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ (only referenced here as a section of it is played in this seasonal show), was only four years old at the time, assuming the show is set ‘in the present day’ at the time it was written.

That is not to say the show, or at least this production of it, is dated. There are regular moments of pretty much universal laughter, as Terry (Samuel Tucker) becomes more and more outrageous, in the way that camp characters in comedies of this nature tend to be. In some ways, this sort of character has been done so many times before – consider, for instance, Albin / Zaza in La Cage aux Folles – and it takes some talent to make a character of this sort so engaging and original. Tucker nails it time and time again, supported by a strong script from Buddy Thomas, with lines and putdowns that are best described as shameless without being shameful.

This is a play that comes close to being a little like Aspects of Love, a musical so mercilessly lampooned by the satirical New York revue Forbidden Broadway, for having characters with highly liberal attitudes towards sexual relations. “Hey, I better sleep with you! / To be sure I didn’t miss you!” Not exactly one for all the family, the laughs came so thick and fast (as it were: I can’t help either my own or other audience members’ minds at phrases like that one) I sometimes missed details in the storyline: that isn’t the production’s weakness, it’s mine. That said, there seemed to be some confusion in the minds of some of the characters themselves, which added to the likeable but nonetheless chaotic nature of the narrative.

For reasons I need not go into here, the press night performance did not quite get to the thrilling final showdown the play is famed for, before the curtain came down. It’s the live theatre experience, these things happen, and all that jazz. The abridged version I did see was delightful and multi-layered. Alex (Kit Loyd) manages to bawl his eyes out often enough without coming across as a cry baby character – he’s not in steady employment, though this is not for want of trying, and a long-distance relationship with mild-mannered (to a point) Matt (Tim Jennings) can’t be sustained, what with Buck (Jack Armstrong) on the scene. Completing the list of characters is Roger (Myles Rogerson), who as far I could tell is a rent boy in all but name. Shouldn’t ‘Roger’ really have been called ‘Buck’? Just saying, as the hashtag goes.

Of note is a long story from Alex, early on in the show, about a negative experience in a shopping precinct, simultaneously hilarious and disheartening, and a later confrontation between Terry and Matt, well-choreographed (if that is the right word) sends the production into hearty overdrive. Steadily-paced, I found this to be a charming and compelling piece of theatre.

Review by Chris Omaweng

British Theatre, 4 Stars Review

Well, here’s something new: sixteen years after it was a hit Off-Broadway, a spirited gay comedy of manners comes to London, and arrives in triumph, despite there being hardly a trumpet to announce its British premiere. But Buddy Thomas’ five-hander set in the communal living room of a Staten Island flat-share comes perfectly on time: set at Christmas time, it features a bona fide Santa Clause impersonator, a tree with lights, tinsel a-plenty, greeting cards and wrapped presents; it also boasts more than sufficient ghastly personality clashes and fallings out, drunken misbehaviour, inappropriate amorous entanglements, horribly inept revelations, fights, recriminations, tears and guilt to fill even the most capacious Christmas stocking. Moreover, laughing at other people’s yuletide misfortunes is clinically proven to be better than suffering your own in silence, so the play can rightly claim to be a kind of useful ‘group therapy’, especially apt in this season of enforced jollity and compulsory merriment.

Richard Lambert, he of a thousand lighting plots, is the impresario whom we have to thank for tracking down Mr Thomas and dragging his work across the Atlantic and bringing it to the attention of the indigenous theatregoing public. Thomas is a well-known author in the States, and his work has been performed all over the world (even in that place we only speak about in whispers now, … Europe). Why, then, is he unaccountably absent from the schedules of UK theatres? One can but wonder. Fortunately for him, Mr Lambert has discovered him and mounted a handsome production of this clever entertainment.

We are in the rented apartment of Buck (meltingly handsome Jack Armstrong – and that’s his real name, not something taken from the pages of Vanbrugh) and Terry (smart, bitchy queen of the devastating one-liner, Samuel Tucker). The mis-en-scene presents us with an estrangement: Buck’s inamorato, Alex (lanky, young Jimmy Stewart throwback, Kit Lloyd), has shacked up with them while his erstwhile soul-mate Matt (gorgeous and yet very intense Tim Jennings), is away for a year in the road company of the musical of ‘Salem’s Lot’ (which – as far as we know – is still touring). Into this mix pops Roger (straight-as-a-die Myles Rogerson… yes, really), a Staten Island Ferry pick up of Terry’s. Things are fraught enough between all these, until – quelle surprise! – Matt takes advantage of a holiday layover in Idaho to whizz back to the Hudson with the intention of rebuilding bridges between him and Alex, and actually has the effect of provoking a final meltdown of the whole rickety domestic situation.

Imposed onto this tawdry material is a sophisticatedly constructed three-act comedy (each act elegantly sub-divided into three scenes), which makes the fullest possible use of its constituent parts (including a set with no fewer than four points of entry or exit – five, if you count the window, which is used), and puts into the mouths of its ordinary characters words of magical charm. The repartee crackles; the narrations hypnotise. Yet, the smart dialogue never feels it belongs anywhere other than right here, right now, and we are delighted to find ourselves believing that these characters talk like this all the time. That the young cast do more than justice to the wit and also the humanity of the story is a triumph for which we have to thank the brilliance of director Robert McWhir, who gets his youthful charges to play some pretty high comedy perhaps not quite as if they had been doing it for years, but with very much more confidence and aplomb than is often seen amongst beginners in the profession (drama schools, please take note). As for the subject matter: there is but a brief flash of nudity, and a gentle smattering of profanity, a couple of snogs and a pair of tasteful Bruce Weber photographs on view, and that’s about it as far as its raciness goes. All the rest is in the heels upon which the conversation struts and strides. Frankly, Mrs Grundy, there is nothing here that would look terribly out of place in the Theatre Royal Windsor.

Yes, there is a certain modesty about the budget, and the rehearsal period has been pretty much limited to a week, so there is a rough-and-ready, ‘Rep’ feel to the production. Nevertheless, Lambert puts every penny to good use, and as ‘Technical Designer’ produces the staging and lighting with some accomplishment. Having seen the show twice, first on the Tuesday, and then two days later, the second viewing confirmed my favourable opinion of the piece and I urge you not to let this slip by. Go, and when you go, bring your friends with you: they will like you all the more for it. The lucky ones amongst us have already seen this marvellous hoot in Clapham: next week, it entertains the masses at The Pleasance in Islington. Make sure you see it! Your endorphins will thank you forever. As for Buddy Thomas, I suspect we in the UK are going to hear much more from him.

Review by Julian Eaves

Jack the Lad Magazine, 4 Stars Review

We sincerely hope that the events that unravel in the small, seasonally decorated Staten Island apartment of Buddy Thomas’s The Crumple Zone (Clapham Omnibus until 23rd December – Pleasance Stage Space 27th-29thDecember) aren’t representative of the average festive season friends will be sharing across the country this year, although I am sure there will be a number of familiar touchstones in this play that the audience will relate to during this seasonal dark comedy in which Terry, Alex, Buck, Matt and Roger negotiate love, infidelity and friendship over an eventful Christmas, and as their various friendships and relationships get tested it becomes evident that theirs is not necessarily going to be a season of good will to all men.

That said, there is plenty of humour here, most coming from the acid tongue of Terry, (played by Samuel Tucker) who hits the ground running from his very first appearance, dressed in only a pair of boxers and a T-Shirt, launching into a diatribe not only against Xmas, but the fact that his friend Buck (who he has a crush on), is having an affair with his roommate Alex, who is already involved in a long term, long distance relationship with actor boyfriend Matt. (Don’t panic, these connections become much clearer as the play progresses). Terry also bemoans in his standard, hyperbolic way that he always feels on the periphery of the action, relegated to just a bit part in the soap opera of his own life!

Terry’s caustic tirades (of which there are many) hit fever pitch almost immediately, which unfortunately leaves little room for the character to develop too much over the duration of the play, almost having been taken as far as he can go within the first ten minutes. That’s not to say that Tucker doesn’t take ownership of the role and performs it with gusto, and being favoured with some of the scripts funniest one liners his performance is undoubtedly a strong one, if hampered only by the one dimension Terry seems to be allowed. It’s a problem that is apparent through much of the first half as the continuous verbal jousting between Terry, Buck, (played by Jack Armstrong) and Alex (played by Kit Loyd), is played for the most part in just one gear, that being ‘full-on’, although in fairness this production is billed as making “Big Brother look like Enid Blyton!”

Despite the arrival of Roger, Terry’s ‘pick-up’, (played by Myles Rogerson) bringing a slight change of pace to the proceedings, it’s after the intermission that this play really seems to find its stride, with the arrival of Alex’s boyfriend Matt (played by Tim Jennings). The development in the action allows the actor’s space to bring more light and shade to their characters, which have no other option than to confront each other and the consequences of their actions, making the performances and the drama feel more engaging.

Unfortunately just as this stronger second half was firing on all cylinders during the performance I attended, the play was brought to an abrupt halt when one of the actors was unfortunately taken unexpectedly ill, so there will definitely be no spoilers as to how the action resolves. That I was sufficiently invested in the production to want to return and find out how the situation plays out I hope is testament to the fact that, despite my misgivings in the first half, The Crumple Zone is definitely an enjoyable, if full-on look into the negotiations that make up modern gay friendships and relationships. Like a nineties adjunct to the hit 1960’s play The Boys In The Band, the claustrophobic confines of the apartment are palpable, with the well timed comedy bringing plenty of light relief to the play’s darker strokes.

The Crumple Zone will be transferring to the Pleasance Stagespace between 27th and 29th December where I must confess I am very much looking forward to finding out how the play ends.

Review by Simon Webb

Last Minute Tickets, 4 Stars Review

It’s around Christmas sometime in the 1990s and somewhere on Staten Island in New York, sharing a small, two-bedroom apartment are friends Alex and Terry. Buck has been staying over as he’s having an affair with Alex whilst Terry has a big crush on Buck. Alex however, is in a long-term relationship with Matt who’s an actor away on a long tour but who doesn’t know about Buck. If it sounds complicated, it is and it’s going to get even more complicated when a surprise visitor arrives to shake things up and shatter the status quo.

There are faint echoes of “The Boys In The Band” in Buddy Thomas’s The Crumple Zone with the surprise arrival at a party, complicated relationships and a mixture of pathos and comedy but Thomas’s play bears comparison with Matt Crowley’s award winner.

It’s a very poignant piece that will resonate with anyone in a relationship be they gay or straight. It’s a combination great humour and farce (especially in the second half) – a large blow-up penis makes an appearance at one stage – and moments of contemplation and sadness as the protagonists realise that their lives are pretty mixed up.

The cast of five are all superb with Samuel Tucker’s portrayal of the insecure and bitchy “Terry” the stand-out performance. But he does get all the best lines such as “I like my drinks strong and cheap – like my men” and “I’m so desperate I’d f*ck Don Rickles” (wrinkly, old and not very good looking American comedian). Jack Armstrong as the handsome but slightly dim “Buck”, Kit Loyd as “Alex”, Tim Jennings as “Matt” and Myles Rogerson as “Roger” are all superb and make for a strong ensemble cast. The set is simple with most of the action taking place on (and behind!) a leather sofa placed centre stage but it all works well.

A special mention of Robert McWhir’s superb direction. He brings out the best in the cast and never allows the pace to drop for a moment giving the actors space to breathe and make us feel empathy with the situation they’re in.

The Crumple Zone took its time to cross the Atlantic but judging by this production, it’s been well worth the wait.

Review by Alan Fitter

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