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The problem with starting a play with a man dressed in a moose costume explaining his life story to the audience is that, other than being a little odd, a high level of weird has already been reached right from the very beginning – leaving actors struggling to top it without seeming desperate, in turn encouraging rather awkward silences. The Boy Who Was Woody Allen unfortunately has this very problem, and although it does have possibly the best moose costume I have ever seen, it also suffers from its need to out-weird its own weirdness, turning something that should be surreal and silly into something that is just a little boring and cringeworthy.
There are times when the weirdness works and James Phelps, who plays Woody Allen, (and who also may never be named without the addition that he also played the prankster Fred Weasley in the Harry Potter films) works his acting socks off to achieve this. The story goes that after a careers talk at school Catholic James O’Leary has an epiphany and decides not only that he wants to be Jewish, but that he wants to become Woody Allen. Phelps’ angsty hand-wringing impression of Woody Allen is pretty spot-on and delivers several chuckles throughout; it’s just a shame that in general the rest of the cast are unable to come up with the comedy goods when Phelps isn’t onstage. Instead we are treated to dodgy Irish/EasternEuropean/German accents that begin to grate rather than delight, a pity when all of the cast are clearly so enthusiastic about their roles.
Even Phelps occasionally loses his place, which emphasises the strange rawness of the performance – at times it felt like the cast forgot to go to their dress rehearsal and were just blindly pushing through on a wing and a prayer. Perhaps this is a little harsh as there were very few hiccups in the performance I saw, however nothing seemed to gel particularly well together, which no matter how surreal the comedy is supposed to be can only lead to uneasiness amongst audience members. It’s possible that this is partly down to the script which jumps from “controversial” comedy to Jewish humour to well, moose costumes, rather randomly. Playwrights David Simmons and Geoff Marrow clearly like to add a bit of shock value to their comedy as shown by their previous writing collaboration “Obits”, a play about famous dead people, but here it can sometimes feel a little forced, such as the continuous jokes surrounding a patisserie that sells bread in the shape of genitals that go into all kinds of wrong. If you’re Jewish you may want to give this an extra star, (unless you detest Jewish stereotypes then you will probably want to stay well clear) as there’s a lot Yiddish oy veying going on that got several belly laughs from those who could understand what was happening. There are, then, definitely some laughs to be had at The Boy Who Was Woody Allen, but for a true comedy great you’d probably be better putting on Annie Hall, I hear the Woody Allen in that one is almost like the real thing.