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The Shy Gas Man at Southwark Playhouse

Nathan Fayard

The Shy Gas Man which is advertised as a "dark comedy" is certainly dark, and at points uproariously funny, but it didn't quite manage to combine the two into a workable whole.

Still, in the end, the play did deliver a good number of laughs, even if it failed to produce much else.

The show started off a little slow, the lights coming up and introducing the audience with undue lingering to the rather pitiful character Sheila, portrayed in a fairly lacklustre performance, that perhaps had more to do with the writing than with the acting, by Laura Lonsdale.

However, the scene is quickly rescued, as are so many others, by the appearance of Sheila's mother, Stella, played with marvellous flare, razor wit, and with an excusable lack of tact, by Elizabeth Elvin.

The play struggles with a few important and noteworthy themes, although it fails to deal with them in any definite way for the most part.

Eventually the audience begins to understand that some terrible catastrophe has befallen these characters, but initially it seems as if Sheila and her husband, a small, angry, eccentric and verbally abusive fellow named Toni, were just two more sad stock characters living miserable lives.

Toni is played with admirable, if excessive, energy by Paul Popplewell, who literally bounces off the walls in this role. He ends up coming off a bit too over the top, but is funny in his own way.

The story does develop some interesting complexities, although it perhaps dances around its revelations a little too long. Moments between Sheila and Darren, the title character himself played by the young Dominic Colenso who perhaps took his title a bit too seriously, obviously intended to be weighty and intensely emotional felt forced and ended up more embarrassing than moving.

Despite these flaws, and a bit of clunky dialogue, which seem to have more to do with the script than anything else, the play remains entertaining until the end, which is, to be honest, glaringly obvious. The play's author, Gill Adams, probably should have stuck to comedy, for which he has an obvious gift, and left the serious work to someone else.

• The Shy Gas Man is at the Southwark Playhouse until Saturday 5 March. Call box office (020 7620 3494) for special 2 for 1 ticket offer valid for all performances except Monday when seats are 6.

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