All New People Review

What’s the one thing you don’t want to hear after watching Zach Braff’s theatrical debut in All New People?

Let me come back to that.

A well dressed man stands in the kitchen of what appears to be his plush, beach front apartment and spies his surroundings for somewhere to dispense of the dying embers of a cigarette.

Not that unusual a premise for any cancer stick aficionados out there, only this fellow in question has strategically placed his neck into a makeshift noose that hangs from the ceiling.

This is Charlie, it’s his 35th birthday and it’s fair to assume he’s had better ones.

Before Charlie can find a solution to his dying cigarette conundrum, the front door opens and his hanging swings from the future to the present.

Having survived this self inflicted ordeal, thanks to the intervention of some uninvited and overly enthusiastic estate agent Emma, our protagonist is now faced with a fate worse than death.

Explaining to some total stranger why he was about to kill himself.

So Charlie starts spinning lies, one after another, doing everything he can to avoid spilling his truth. As our birthday boy’s doing this, a fireman and an escort unexpectedly show up to add their presence to Charlie’s impromptu soiree.

And no, the escort in question isn’t of the bog standard Ford kind.

As he reluctantly becomes acquainted with his new friends instead of that length of cord he’d intended for his evening’s entertainment, will Charlie continue to suffer in silence or will he decide to let these new people in?

Having previously enjoyed Zach Braff’s multi faceted talent on screens big and small over the years, I was really looking forward to watching his first foray onto London’s theatre scene in the flesh.

Unfortunately, Braff’s first play is less of a triumph than Garden State; that other self penned indie classic he also starred in.

Beginning with the promising premise of his character’s failed suicide attempt, All New People quickly descends into two dimensional caricatures of how people supposedly are according to the laws of Hollywood.

So we’ve got Emma, a Bridget Jones inspired character who’s unlucky in love and pretty much every other aspect in her life. Myron the apathetic fire-fighter who’s more interested in blazing up than putting blazes out; and Kim, a vacuous sex worker who’s been bought to do whatever Charlie wants for the night by a well meaning friend.

The dialogue for these characters feels artificial and largely forced, but seeing as their raison d’être appears to be furthering Charlie’s own narrative this isn’t a surprise.

As you’d expect, Braff reserves the best lines for himself. Hell, it’s what I’d do if I wrote and starred in a London play.

The problem is that the genuinely funny or insightful moments Braff’s character offers up, such as Charlie’s observations on Charlton Heston’s Moses or his fond memories of the girl that got away, are in stark contrast to the weak characterisation of the supporting roles.

In fact, they only serve to highlight just how formulaic the writing for these filler characters actually is.

Which is a shame, as All New People could have been something great. The ensemble performance of all four actors keeps you engaged, whilst the clever use of props ensure the single stage setting never once feels staid or claustrophobic.

If only a bit more time and thought had been put into developing the script; especially the climactic scenes, which felt more like a bolted on exercise in trying to create drama through characters shouting emotive things at each other and rather divorced from the reality of what had gone before.

Alas, this is the oft unspoken problem of the theatrical world; it’s not what you know in this industry, but who.

And if Zach Braff wasn’t famous, neither would his play be.

Jonathan Campbell

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February 2012
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