All New People – Duke of York’s Theatre, until 28 April 2012
The tone for the evening is set pretty much immediately; the music playing over the PA system is so hipster-y that you spend the first 5 minutes waiting for Zooey Deschanel to emerge from the wings wearing a vintage polka-dot dress whilst eating a cupcake. Also immediately obvious to a jaded theatre-goer is that the audience waiting expectantly is notably younger than those entering Hay Fever, the Noel Coward-revival currently playing 50 metres down St Martins Lane.
Can we go as far as to make rather-too-obvious allusions about a baton changing hands? Well, yes and no, Braff’s ‘All New People’ is his first attempt at writing for the stage and there is a definite sense that he is a little green around the edges; in Coward the jokes slip down easier than the regularly consumed cocktails that punctuate his plays, for Braff the punchlines are clearly influenced by his background in TV, harsher and with a more obvious break for audience laughter.
However there are signs that, if Braff sticks with it, he could be a genuinely talented new comic voice for the stage. And it is a voice that is desperately needed. Comedy appears to be treading water in the West End; if you strip out the celebrity revivals (Lenny Henry in Comedy of Errors), the old-hands (the annual Ayckbourn) and the reworkings (One Man, Two Guv’nors) then we are left with a rather bare cupboard.
Braff is a talented writer and knows how to craft a gag, either verbal or visual. The play starts with a well-judged physical comedy routine where Braff, about to hang himself, discovers he has nowhere to ash his final cigarette. The rest of the play is stuffed full of decent punchlines, even if it rather too often veers towards the profane but this could be a natural reaction against the restrictions of TV comedy. Braff has a very referential and post-modern style, which judges its target audience astutely. These are characters that clearly exist in the real-world, even if it is a much abstracted one.