Nina’s Got News, Pleasance Dome Edinburgh, review - Frank Skinner's maiden foray into playwrighting fizzles

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Nina's Got News: 'Bemusingly underpowered'
Nina's Got News: 'Bemusingly underpowered'

‘That was very Frank Skinner,” I overheard a man remark as we trooped out of the unlovelier of the Pleasance’s two main venues, having witnessed the comedian’s playwriting debut at the age of 61.

Actually, that’s pretty much the perfect review. If you know Skinner, even cursorily, you’ll know he’s adept at the smart, off-hand quip and, especially as a stand-up, can’t resist a spot of smut. Fans of those aspects of his personality will find themselves well enough served by this fitfully entertaining yet bemusingly underpowered three-hander.

Those hoping for indications of more than the most rudimentary playwriting promise, however, will have to head elsewhere – possibly to one of the two other plays (it was to have been three) making up “Debut”, a BBC-backed initiative to get “creatives” from other fields diving into theatre mode.

The trickiest thing about critiquing Skinner’s novice effort isn’t the potential damage to his fledgling theatrical talent; having ear-wormed his way back into the nation’s affections via those endless replays of Three Lions during the World Cup, someone putting the boot in surely can’t hurt for long. It’s that the “news” alluded to in the title needs to stay under wraps, or what impact the piece has will be reduced.

Frank Skinner

At the same time, the “revelation” that Nina has summoned her ex-boyfriend Chris and friend Vanessa to her home to impart is the high-minded comedy’s most intriguing aspect – the leap of faith required to take her seriously is a test of their friendships. Nina’s invitation has the effect of raising clueless Chris’s hopes when our suspicion grows that she’s simply trying to let him down gently.

The most assured dialogue lies in the nicely awkward set-up badinage between Jessica Clark’s cheery, caustic but not-unkind Nina and Rob Auton’s gangly, dweeby Chris, who is obsessively fixated with their past sex lives: “Chris I didn’t dump you – I just redefined your role in my life.” Breffni Holahan completes the trio as the openly withering Vanessa.

Given that production company Avalon are also behind this endeavour, it’s not hard to see the potential for Skinner’s breezily candid way with words (61 going on 16) to be harnessed for sitcom. Yet on stage, the recurrent flipness undermines character development and instead of building dramatically it all fizzles – not helped by sluggish pacing from director Polina Kalinina that allows more pauses to creep in than you’d get in your average Pinter. Don’t hold the front-page.

Until Aug 26. Tickets: 0131 556 6550; pleasance.co.uk