Banging Denmark ★★★★

Banging Denmark sees a biting new black comedy by one of Australia’s leading social commentators, Van Badham, perform its European premiere in London

Amid the shiny new renovation at the Finborough Theatre, Banging Denmark is knocking down walls and opening up black comedy to brand new audiences.

Picture this… a misogynistic, self-obsessed, and egotistical man, using his position in society and the wealth it has afforded him to seduce and take advantage of women for sexual pleasure. Heard it all before? Not this you haven’t. Banging Denmark takes a storyline born from everyday real life which is sadly oh too often experienced and breathes a clever new perspective on it thanks to Van Badham’s new critically acclaimed black comedy. 

All images by Ali Wright

We meet Jake aka Guy de Witt (Tom Kay), our typical Management Consultant, surrounded by every stereotypical item you can think of in a heterosexual bachelor pad, a PC Gaming headset, computer-game boxes, the remnants of a few takeaways from earlier in the week, and even a discarded pair of boxer shorts, as he is deep into his side hustle as a sex podcaster. Strangely, but probably unsurprising for a character who is a total douche bag, there isn’t actually any sex in his sex podcast, instead it’s just a hotline for other douche bags to call in and discuss the highs and lows of being douchebags. They open up on the hardships of douche and techniques to be a bag. Tick. Tick. The scene is set.

Badham’s language in the opening ten minutes is unarguably uncomfortable for anyone who has, however fleetingly, had even the remotest pro-feminist thought in their lifetime, but it’s this writing, paired together with Sally Woodcock’s straight-shooting direction, that exposes a truth which paints the picture of Jake for the rest of the play.

Juxtaposed to this, on the opposite side of the stage, is an equally chaotic scene of disorganised belongings, and nestled in amongst the clothes bedding and discarded food containers we find our protagonist, Ishtar (Rebecca Blackstone). The starkest contrast between these two characters’ lives is immediately apparent, as Ishtar’s predicament is clearly not self-imposed.

Our villain and a victim are not alone though, after a somewhat heavy and unhumorous opening to the show, Badham introduces Denyse (Jodie Tyack), Ishtar’s friend and expert in the feminist martial art, suffra-jitsu. For the audience, Denyse’s arrival is important as she is the firelighter for the comedic introduction to this brilliantly written black comedy.

It’s worth clarifying at this point that if you aren’t familiar with that term, a black comedy, or dark comedy as it is sometimes known, is a comedy that makes light of subject matter that is generally considered taboo, particularly subjects that are normally considered serious or painful to discuss, and it is Badham’s script and this productions enviable talent in its actors which delivers a textbook version of this artform. It really is that good.

Tyack’s West-Country-accented portrayal of the mathematics doctor Denyse is inspiring. She effortlessly delivers a vulnerable but tough character who brings oodles of comedy to the piece. James Jip plays the dough eyed love interest of Denyse’s, Toby, and whilst the role isn’t the standout part in the play, he too delivers a precise and honest portrayal at every point.

The wider storyline pivots around a central love interest, Anne (Maja Simonsen), and she has been well cast. Suitably, Simonsen is Danish, which helps in a play called Banging Denmark and you’re in the role of the girl that the guy wants to ‘bang’, but Simonsen is also an accomplished actress who straightforwardly gets the job done. Her standout acting ‘party trick’ is certainly worth a mention though as she possesses the ability to turn on tears quicker than Judi Dench, and even achieves the conveyance of a perfectly timed single tear running down her cheek at a suitably emotional moment. And the award goes to…*opens envelope*.

Kay’s portrayal of Jake is helped immeasurably by his physical look, and there isn’t a minute where you would question whether you were watching an actor or whether you were simply a fly on the wall of Jake’s actual life playing out in front of you. Despite the subject of the piece and the character’s ‘behaviour’, Kay gets the opportunity to add some diversity to the way he acts this misogynistic womaniser, and it is this decision, whether directed or self-attributed, that sets his performance apart from just another bloke acting like a stereotypical muscle brained numpty. Kay is clearly versatile in his craft, and audiences will look forward to see what he does next.

The standout performance in the show though is without a doubt Blackmore in the role of Ishtar. Her gritty and no-holds-barred portrayal of such a complex, but also familiar, character, is outstanding. The play is a slow burn, in all honestly, and the beginning feel a tad unintentionally uncomfortable at times, but as soon as Blackmore’s role begins to build and she slowly unfurls minute upon minute of  stellar acting, you’re hooked. The peak of her prowess is undoubtedly the final scene, a drunken scene, which anyone who has studied acting will know sets the great from the apart good if they can do it well. Not an ounce overacted or overdone, it was hilarious but heart-wrenching all at the same time, from the start of scene to the end. Bravo!

There are some slightly eggy and odd scene changes, where the actors break character in almost a verbal high-five to swapping the focus, but it doesn’t detract too much from a story which is full of guts and hard truths, albeit parlayed through comedy. It is the last few scenes of the play which cleverly draw together the themes of the whole piece and bring it to a thought-provoking close. Are we the way we are, and do we behave with a lack of morality sometimes in romantic situations just to avoid being lonely? We all hear that loneliness can kill, so maybe acting like an a**hole sometimes is just our way of surviving? So maybe we should all pity a total pig of a man like Jake, because he’s so busy just trying to ‘survive’, he isn’t getting to live. 

You have until Denmark perform at the Eurovision Grand final to catch this banger of a play. You won’t regret it if you do.  

Guts and hard truths Banging Denmark sizzles – ★★★★ 4 stars

Banging Denmark Tickets

Banging Denmark continues at the Finborough Theatre until Saturday, 11 May 2024

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