After the first couple of minutes my mind began to drift. I lost a few seconds. I realised the other actor was spittling now, so I bit my tongue to concentrate. I maybe managed a minute before I drifted away again and came round to catch sight of some different actors on the stage. I managed at least thirty seconds of heroic attention before minutes passed. And then more minutes. The interval came and someone gave me a drink. A short drift later the cast were together, holding hands and bowing and it was all over and I was able to leave.

Editing makes television comedies easier. Take for example a typical sequence in a mockumentary sitcom. One character is describing another who isn't present. They say something like, 'he's always a very dignified gentleman' and as this is spoken the film cuts so that we see the character being described, upside down in a bin, legs waggling. The film cuts back to the speaker nodding earnestly to emphasise their point. Or imagine another scene where one character is flattering another, yet in the subtitles a monologue of their thoughts pours forth contradicting all that they're saying. Or imagine a screen fade out where we suddenly enter a character's dreamscape, with images at once fantastic and bathetic, as the protagonist, an office worker, imagines himself as a spy in a tuxedo dodging bullets to rescue a woman who looks like his co-worker. And so on and so on. On TV sight gags rule, the problem for writers is that these kind of jokes simply don't work in the theatre, and yet the ubiquity of TV makes it hard for any writer not to think in these terms. At least that's the excuse I would extend to Code of the West.

Mark Giesser's script might work on television – there's just enough material here (including cuts to characters quoting from the absurdly prolix 'code of the west', to extended descriptions of relatively fantastic back stories) that a smart director could fashion something reasonably zippy. But on stage the script is pancake flat. I laughed once, and I'm the kind of cretin who is usually quite happily entertained by seeing a squirrel poke its head out of a Subway wrapper or hearing someone say the word 'bottom' in a funny voice.

This is not to say the acting is bad. David Janson is a welcoming, likeable presence, while both Lucinda Forth and Zoe Teverson are game and unprecious but there's just nowhere for them to go.

The story of the marriage of Joshua Abraham Norton, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States, to an East Coast heiress probably starts in the wrong place (with characters in reflective rather than scheming mode) before moving sedately and with long periods of languor towards a conclusion so predictable that most foetuses would be able to guess it was coming. The formula for most romantic comedies usually involves misunderstandings between the lovers and the outside obstructions of other parties. Here, neither of the lovers cares about the other's personality and nobody significant wants to interrupt their liaison. It has less narrative drive than an abandoned static caravan; less intrigue than the product description on the label of a bottle of table water.

It is possible that with funnier jokes the absence of plot could be mitigated but for the most part, they are equally plodding. Meanwhile the setting is alien without being interesting, and the direction is conservatively naturalistic. Had it been either more exuberantly brash (in the mode of The Producers), or given a pacier screwball edge, or simply bounced about with livelier slapstick, it could have alleviated the tedium. Maybe this will develop as the run continues. 

After all nothing in the script is actually offensive or aggressive or especially vulgar — the only fault ultimately is the minor trauma of incapacitating dullness. And in the meantime, on the plus side, this is a comedy that those with pacemakers can attend without trepidation. 

Code of the West, at Tabard Theatre

A weak narrative, and a style better suited to the screen than to the stage, render this American love story a formulaic romantic comedy — without the laughs. At the Tabard Theatre.

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