First presented in 1990, Doug Lucie’s Doing the Business plots a conversation between a theatre producer and a rich acquaintance as they debate how theatre (apparently an intrinsically leftie pursuit) can earn a payout from the overflowing right wing purse. Complementary piece Blind, also by Lucie, tells the tale of how a pair of artists seek funding from two very different sources: one paternal, encouraging and undemanding; the other, a clear-headed dealer with loyalties to nobody except the bank manager.
One of the plays is about performance, the other the visual arts; one provides a clash of opposing attitudes, the other delivers a more nuanced (yet equally flawed) interrogation of a patron’s needs. Both, in their dead-end visions of dependence in art, are backward and unconstructive and come across as self-indulgent, entitled and bitchy in tone.
In Doing the Business, stereotypically-drawn characters do little to enliven flimsy and textureless arguments. A laid back theatre producer (Jim Mannering), with top button undone, meets with a fellow Cambridge alumnus (Matthew Carter) dressed in a tie and braces. In the absence of textual depth, the costuming comes across as lazy, monochrome and overbearing – the staged equivalent of rubbing a copy of The Guardian against The Telegraph.
While he occasionally lets slip a little comic promise, Carter delivers his performance with volume largely unchanged, doing little to make his affluent character, Peter, anything more than a caricature. Mannering brings a similar lack of shading to his illumination of Mike, the thrifty producer whose palms are near-constantly poised towards the skies, as if seeking out a new higher power who is less concerned with end-of-year targets and capital gain.
The script is the greatest villain here though, and it is hard to comprehend why – in the age of significant commercial sponsorships providers such as Travelex and Sky – Triple Jump Productions has decided to revive a work that reinforces the myth against enterprise in the arts, perpetuating the oppositions it seeks to criticise.
Thankfully there’s a little more comic relief in Blind, the second play in this double bill. Janna Fox is excellent as Maddy Burns, the buzz-cut and bitter Tracey Emin-type whose conceptual hit ‘Turd in a Teacup’ sprung out of the artist’s confession that she always was a “shit painter”.
Unfortunately, the work fails to sustain this humour, choosing instead to blaze through contemporary issues with the vigour of your typical puberty-afflicted art class. Self-harm, sexuality, miscarriage, prostitution, lone-parenting, alcoholism, cocaine-abuse, death, casual sex, porn and heroin-induced suicide are all thoughtlessly tossed as seasoning onto the play’s core discussion of the value of a supportive network. Such throwaway references are best left to the YBAs.