Double dates don’t get much more awkward than this one. Lucy (Katherine Thomas) just wants to stay home and watch Gogglebox – but her best friend Gus (Calum Robshaw) and his recently back-on-again girlfriend Rachael (Natasha Grace Hutt) have other ideas. They’ve just announced they’ve set her up with the man bun-sporting Caps (Jack Forsyth Noble), for some unfathomable reason; the two of them are clearly a match made in hell from the moment they set eyes on each other. It doesn’t help that Caps has got his eye on Rachael, and soon he’s trying to drag Lucy into his dastardly plan to steal her from Gus. Worse: she’s actually thinking about it, for reasons that both confuse and annoy her.
Katherine Thomas makes her professional writing debut with Never Trust a Man Bun, which transfers to Stockwell Playhouse following a short run at Theatre N16. Under Scott Le Crass’ direction, the jokes fly thick and fast through the course of one disastrous evening – most of them at the expense of one or other of the characters. As in any good sitcom, each has their “thing”: Rachael is irritating and almost unbelievably stupid (“the plural of ‘mice’ is ‘mice’!” she declares proudly at one point), Gus is a total pushover, Caps is obnoxious, manipulative and not ashamed to use his autistic sister to get sympathy, and Lucy’s default setting against everyone – even people she likes – appears to be defensive sarcasm and general nastiness. It’s no surprise the evening doesn’t end well; what’s significantly more surprising is that we don’t end up hating everyone on stage.
The jokes are well-placed and delivered with excellent comic timing by the cast of four, though a couple of the gags go on for a bit longer than feels strictly necessary. At times, too, realism takes a hit at the expense of humour (it’s hard to believe anyone could seriously be that proud of putting pretzels and crisps together) but what does ring true is the complicated tangle of emotions being experienced by these confused 20-somethings. It’s not all about their romantic disasters, as entertaining as they may be; there’s also career anxiety, money worries, and the not altogether welcome realisation that they’re no longer the same people they were ten years ago. It’s a play about growing up and finding your place in the world – and perhaps coming to terms with the fact that it isn’t where you thought it would be. That’s a panic I think most of us can relate to, at least to some extent, and it’s in the brief moments where the play stops looking for laughs and gets serious that it’s at its strongest.
Never Trust a Man Bun is a promising and well performed debut, peppered with some great one-liners and laugh out loud moments. It doesn’t quite feel like the finished article yet, but with a bit of polishing and strategic pruning, there’s potential for a play that offers up real insight as well as laughs.