When Matt Bourne, a man lost in grief for his ex-wife decides to stay at a hotel ‘Off the King’s Road’ he goes on a journey he’ll never forget. Steeped in loneliness, he meets an equally lonely prostitute, Sheena, and another equally lonely widow, Ellen Mellman, and her cat, Christina.
This play celebrates London but not in the usual way. Whilst many plays about London focus on the culture, this one focuses on what really makes London tick – the people in it. Yes, the tourist attractions, the films and of course the theatres are mentioned but the London celebrated here is far more personal and in that sense it does bring something new to the table.
However, beyond the retelling of London, I didn’t feel I learnt anything new. Whilst watching four people struggling with loneliness was poignant and interesting I didn’t come away thinking I had gained an in depth understanding of the issues, more that I’d seen a small scratch in the surface, and the clear mental health issues suffered by the main character were practically ignored by the script.
Michael Brandon produced an emotional performance as the grieving American Matt Bourne and the awkwardness of his encounters with prostitute Sheena (Diana Dimitrovici) was played to perfection. However, the character itself lacked the depth to fully understand the loneliness and relying on a stick man with a speech bubble to show this perhaps illustrates the problems of this. Furthermore, revelations about the death of his wife, and his attempts to cope with this, appeared to be far more shocking to the other characters in the play than to the audience and I found myself watching with mild interest rather than on tenterhooks waiting for the next big reveal.
The best portrayal of loneliness came from Cheri Lunghi as cat lady Ellen Mellman. Her increasingly desperate attempts to get attention from Matt display an emptiness which got closer than any other to adding something extra to the show- the image of a woman attempting to close the void left by the death of her husband by filling her life with things to do but ultimately getting very little from doing it alone. The ending between her and Matt had something to say about taking a risk and getting to know other people, and with echoes of earlier scenes in the show it had a certain poignancy and was the only part of the play whose meaning I felt worth consideration afterwards.
Freddie, the hotel owner, played by Luke Pitman, was a character for comic relief and he deservedly got some laughs due to his over-exaggerated and eager to please characterisation but, because of the lack of depth from the rest of the play, the contrast didn’t quite feel sufficient to do the character or the actor the justice they deserve for comedic value.
Some ingenious use of technology allowed Jeff Bridges to virtually appear via a video calling service as Dr Kozlowski. I particularly appreciated the realistic nature of these appearances complete with the screen freezing and pixelating randomly which added a touch of reality to the show.
Overall, Off The King’s Road is an interesting play about how one can be surrounded by people in a city such as London, but still, for a host of different reasons, be lonely. However, given the subject matter, I would have liked to have seen something that went beyond the surface of the issues and left me with a lasting impression, rather than a play that simply kept me entertained for 90 minutes.
1st to 25th June 2016
Jermyn Street Theatre
in association with
Jermyn Street Theatre
in Off The Kings Road
by Neil Koenigsberg
and an e-appearence from Jeff Bridges
Director Alan Cohen
Designer Claire Lyth
Lighting Alex Marshall
Sound Andrew Hinton
Video Matt Brown
Casting Anne Vosser
After his wife’s recent passing, retired American businessman Matt Browne takes a week’s respite in his favourite city, London. Checking into a small hotel, his stay unexpectedly turns into a voyage of self-discovery: life, death and the whole damn thing!
Having planned to spend his days contemplating his place in the world as a single, ageing man while enjoying the city’s culture, food, parks, museums and theatres, Matt’s time is suddenly taken up by an overly zealous, kind-hearted hotel clerk, a widow and an unforeseen connection with a prostitute from Zagreb. And, to top it all, his psychiatrist is 12,000 miles away in Beverly Hills!
Matt Browne’s world turns upside down as his seven day London sojourn tumbles into surprising places that certainly weren’t on his agenda.