It takes a little while to work out what Don’t Be Terrible actually is. It starts as a comedy set with one very over-enthusiastic audience member. The play then turns into a piece of darkly comedic theatre that has some fascinating insights into comedy and working relationships. It never quite manages to have the last laugh, but there is plenty to digest in this play from Ellen Waddell and Oliver Milburn.
Wanting to become a stand-up comedian, ‘standard man’ Steve (Daniel Cech-Lucas) is taken under the reluctant wing of the more experienced comedian Alice (Elly Condron). Their relationship looks to be one of mutual gain, but things take a hostile turn before reaching their tipping point on Steve’s big day. The humour throughout is deliberately awkward, meant to demonstrate that Steve hasn’t yet got what it takes. While Alice’s stand-up sets are definitely better, but aren’t that much funnier for the audience. The irony of this is not lost when she gives out brutal advice to Steve about what is and isn’t funny. Rarely do you get such a provocative look at what comedy is perceived to be.
The show’s jokes never hit the funny bone hard enough. It certainly has moments, but most of what Steve and Alice do more awkward than funny. As a drama however, it can be exceptional. As Steve and Alice’s relationship comes to a head, the twist prior to the finale is one with damaging repercussions for both characters. The strength of the writing shines through when capturing Steve’s anger and Alice’s dismay. Both Cech-Lucas and Condron give strong performances, their chemistry feeling believable and like it really matters. Although it is Steve who is the ‘standard man,’ Alice feels a little underdeveloped compared to Steve, but both characters undergo a noticeable change by the end.
Don’t Be Terrible is certainly not, well, terrible. It could do with a slightly longer running time to cram in crucial bits of extra detail. The delivery of some of the awkward humour and black comedy could also be revised for greater impact (funnily enough Alice does not try to lecture Steve on joke delivery – it is all about the content). This is still an interesting piece of theatre though, with a capable cast and the potential to be developed into something even funnier and more provocative than it already is.