Review: Paperboy, The Lion & Unicorn, The Camden Fringe

Emerging in preposterously oversized suits and an explosion of physical banter, our two would-be journalists, Matt and Matthew, dominate the stage with their volume, their aggressive movements, and their self-entitlement. Meanwhile Phoebe, their assistant, sits quietly in the corner, staring at her empty inbox, trying desperately not to react…

Life imitates art imitates life. This three woman comedy, directed by Amy Tickner and from the pen of Eve Lytoliss, is crude, exaggerated, and silly, and yet; Britain is run by ex-Spectator journalists more ignorant and stupid than these deliberately exaggerated caricatures. So who’s laughing now?

Paperboy is a lovely title, because these boys’ egos are paper-thin. Matt is the supposed Alpha, brandishing £50 notes like an eighties yuppie and reacting with extreme petulance to any reversal of fortune or perceived challenge to his dominance. Giorgia Valentino is an engaging physical presence, all flared nostrils and awkward confidence, and plays Matt almost like a hybrid of Rik Mayall in the Young Ones and Rik Mayall in the New Statesman.

Matthew is his [perhaps closeted] number two, with the shit-eating grin of the eternal lackey. As played by Nandini Bulchandani, this character is another expert parody of the mannerisms and physical tics of rich young men. With no concept of physical space but with at least the tiniest inkling that their behaviour is toxic and unacceptable, Matt is the one you suspect can be redeemed. In the Mitchell and Webb sketch, Matthew would be the one wondering if they were in fact the baddies.

Phoebe Taylor-Jones (Phoebe) awaits the banter hurricane.

Surrounded by their boys’ toys, this newspaper office is a playground in the finest Nathan Barley tradition. Ideas for articles about how PMS is a scam and a dead celebrity important only for her handbags and large tits are repeatedly interrupted by golf, ukuleles, and boasting. And throughout it all, Phoebe, played with admirable restraint by Phoebe Taylor-Jones, seethes in the corner…

Full disclosure: I worked for years at a national newspaper, and they are full of people like this. But if anything, they are more toxic: so at a liberal institution, for example, the men who run things know exactly how to hide their toxicity behind a sheen of right-on righteousness, until the inevitable HR investigation and hushed-up departure.

And the right wing press are even worse. In the past two weeks we’ve seen Times columnist Giles Coren laughing at the death of a young, working class woman, or Johnson himself, who on the day this play was performed was joking about Thatcher’s war against the miners.

But Paperboy doesn’t yearn to be realistic. Matt and Matthew are, if anything naifs, straight out of a hornier, more incel Wodehouse, who think a wine’s age is its sell-by-date and a woman exists to serve, confuse, and look hot.

On my attendance, I got the impression the audience were occasionally unsure whether to laugh or to be horrified, which meant some extremely fun lines – including an excellent, subtle “Me Too” joke – didn’t get the response they deserved.

There were perhaps a couple of scenes here that were unnecessary, and Phoebe’s big speech at the end – and Matt’s potential redemption – didn’t quite ring true, although the deadly silence in the auditorium suggested that people watching definitely needed to hear what the assistant character had to say.

Overall these are minor quibbles: Paperboy is an extremely enjoyable debut play, and all three actors are ones to look out for in future. And thinking about it, didn’t the eighties video game of the same name ALSO involve young boys earning points for breaking things…

**** out of *****

Paperboy is on at the Lion and Unicorn on 6th and 7th August. Tickets here.

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