Zach Braff (star of TV sitcom Scrubs) transfers his self-penned debut theatrical play to the London West End after a brief run on Broadway in early Autumn of last year. Only this time, Braff is taking the lead role of Charlie, previously performed by Justin Bartha (The Hangover).
When we first encounter Charlie, he is smoking a cigarette whilst standing on a chair with a noose around his neck. Charlie is at his lowest ebb, he is about to commit suicide. And then there is a knock at the door, and Charlie's plans to a turn for the better.
Emma (Eve Myles -Torchwood) is a British girl attempting to sell the beach house for the summer, the beach house Charlie says belongs to his parents. Emma initially wants to ask Charlie why he wants to kill himself, yet he is reluctant to be close to anyone.
Emma calls in reinforcements, Myron (Paul Hilton) a fireman who is also the local drug dealer who joins the slowly growing party. The third knock at the door presents a prostitute, Kim (Susannah Fielding) who is a gift to Charlie from an old friend in Manhattan.
Set in the bleak midwinter of Long Island, the cold and bitterness of the outside elements try to exact upon the people inside this one set play. Braff has written a play that is at times laugh out loud funny and at times quite gripping with the emotional pull nearer the end of the conclusion.
Braff's play revolves around the fear of something to the central character (in the same vein of Neil Simon or Woody Allen, those other Jewish doyen writers), in this respect it is about Charlie's fear of growing older as he has hit the 35 year old milestone. He has a stressful job as an air-traffic controller and his lapse into philosophical thinking at the desk led to the death of six people due to his mistake.
Charlie also has a fear of being alone, yet he is quick to shun away any attention he receives from his three visitors (they can be considered ghostly; the prostitute represents his past, Myron his here and now and Emma the possibility of future - a debt to Dickens perhaps). The vigour and unexpectedness of the three guests leads to a wave of profanity in a plea for privacy, yet only once does he calm down does the comedy come out of the character's themselves, once we get over the initial set up of preventing Charlie's suicide. The play morphs from a situation comedy to that of one driven by character.
The ending although slightly ambigious, can be deemed to be relatively happy for all concerned considering the real-time events that have taken place previously.
Braff is having fun with the format, and you can see the time he spent watching each performance in New York has paid dividends - Charlie whilst being the reason we are here, is the straight man of the piece - the best lines are reserved for Hilton and Fielding, in characters that could have been one-dimensional yet projected into something else. Braff also delights in destroying the set - cornflakes, broken glasses, a broken art display lay strewn over the stage by the end; he also has a good ear for a joke, such as the running gag of him booby-trapping the apartment like Home Alone. That joke works, because Braff is writing as a man who remembers how big that film was and the cultural significance of the work on the audience he is writing for. The audience is mostly all 20-40 year old white anglo-saxons who are enjoying the fact they are seeing a famous sitcom character in the flesh.
However, if you expect anything resembling the manic frenzy of a Scrubs episode, you shall be severely disappointed.
Braff has a real presence on stage, never over-reaching for our attachment to his character; yet his work as writer is the star here. For acting plaudits, you need to look at the supporters - all have a dark secret and they all act their socks off. Myles shows she has bones for comedy, Fielding gives her bimbo blonde a neat twist but Hilton, a RSC veteran, is amazing in his role as the cyncial Myron; he is having fun with Braff's words giving different connotations to the words on the page with real panache.
All New People is a debut theatrical work by a special talent; go see it for an engaging night out in the West End that is not a musical and is not a farce.
It runs at the Duke of York's Theatre on St. Martins Lane, for a strict 10 week run from 22nd February.