Winner’s Curse ★★★ Park Theatre | Feb 8 - Mar 11, 2023

If you loved Yes Minister then this is a play that should be your cup of tea. It's a brand new show that explores the zaniness of international negotiations. Written by Daniel Taub, the former Israeli Ambassador to the UK who was involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the story deals with peace talks between two fictional countries. The writer clearly knows the territory, so his lessons about, and insights into, the process ring hilariously true. We particularly liked the performance of Michael Maloney as the seasoned negotiator, Korsakov, who knows all the stratagems. Think Nigel Hawthorne's Sir Humphrey Appleby with a mid-European accent. Arthur Conti also shines as his naïve apprentice, Hugo, who puts the nephew in nepotism. Barrie Rutter conveys lots of comic bluster and buffoonery in the role of General Gromski who is sitting on the other side of the negotiating table, and Nichola McAuliffe puts in a delightfully absurd turn as the neutral survivor, Vaslika Krenskaya. For us, the framing of the story in a lecture given by an older Hugo, played by Clive Anderson, served as an unnecessary distraction. Similarly, the audience participation exercises, while they were interesting, broke the mood and interrupted the flow of the narrative. The audience might have been trusted to recognise the various bargaining ploys without having them explicitly pointed out. Intrinsically, farce is an extremely delicate confection, and the periodic deflating of the madcap antics by the lecturing and participation elements didn't work. Similarly, the summing up at the end of the play seemed rather heavy-handed and the dark conclusion to Korsakov's story seemed to come out of nowhere. There's a very funny and thoughtful show here, but it would probably benefit from some rethinking, making it a little less didactic and clarifying its aims and genre. Such issues aside however, Winner's Curse offers a lot of laughs and some sharp perceptions into the process of negotiation that informs all the different aspects of our lives.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Alex Brenner.

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