The London Theatre Workshop is a brilliant concept which affords emerging playwrights the opportunity to showcase their fledgling work and to support and guide its growth through their theatre lab. Describing themselves as “a creative incubator for work that is commercially viable”, they have already proven the success of the initiative with shows like Judy! which went on to enjoy runs at the Southwark Playhouse and then the Arts Theatre this summer.

Their current show, City of Champions which follows two former nineteen-eighties child superstars living with the after effects of early stardom and abuse as teen stars, is a less successful product of the process.

Having been in development since 2011, Steve Brown’s script is currently on its 21st draft and one can’t help but question what, if anything, has been cut from these previous drafts. Running at just shy of three hours much of the play consists of mundane chit-chat, under developed fringe characters and laborious scenes which lack purpose.

We learn in the opening scene that protagonist, Laurie Munro (Joel Arnold), has endured a horrific past, rife with sexual abuse and is now a recovering addict living on the sofa bed of his life-long friend, Lonnie Drake (Joe Southall). Both actors fail to convince us of the duo’s camaraderie with more awkward hugs, back slaps and handshakes than Donald Trump’s foreign tour.

The play never picks up pace, even when Ian McCurrach slinks on stage to face Munro as James Hudson Phillips, a detestable Hollywood director and the main perpetrator of Munro’s molestation. A scene which should have us gripped, is undermined by disappointing performances and by previous clichéd conversations which have already told us everything we need to know.

Amidst poor lighting design, missed sound cues and an unimaginative set, Amy Burke is the production’s saving grace. Her stand-out performance as childhood film star Mary-Celeste is elegant, touching and surprising, given the lack of character development in the plot.

The crux of Brown’s play swings a vital axe to Hollywood’s glamorous façade. However, even with its grounding in genuine historic cases of child abuse, further development is needed if we are to take away a meaningful or empowering insight into the alleged exploitation in Hollywood.

 

★☆☆☆☆

City of Champions will be running at the London Theatre Workshop until 5th August 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.